East-West Healing: Integrating Chinese and Western Medicines for Optimal Healthby May Loo, Jack Maguire
The first family self-care guide to integrate Chinese medicine and Western mainstream medicine At the heart of this concise, easy-to-use reference is a healing plan for over forty common health problems that integrates traditional Chinese medicine and mainstream Western medicine. Whether you or a loved one have a cold, hives, asthma, insomnia, or tinnitus, this inspiring book can guide you along the best path to health. The author, Dr. May Loo, extensively trained in both Chinese and Western medicines and one of the foremost authorities on the two great medical traditions, is the perfect author for this breakthrough book. She reveals the basic principles of both Chinese and Western medicines-how they differ and how they can be used together. She offers readers a simple method to evaluate their health based on their body constitution, then shows readers how to use acupressure, massage, breathing techniques, movement, and sound activities to attain optimal health. She also delivers an easy exercise program that adults and children can do in just minutes a day to feel more alive and ensure their ongoing health. Illuminating a rich, nature-based tradition of health care to address the reader's whole being, this helpful guide empowers readers to provide the finest possible care for themselves and their loved ones.
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Read an Excerpt
Understanding East-West Healing
Western science has brought us many medical miracles, from aspirin to zooplasty (transferring tissue from other animals to human beings). Despite these technological marvels, however, we seem to need something more to stay healthy.
The truth is that along with the miracles of Western science has come an increasingly stressful and unwholesome way of life, fueled by a haphazard diet of processed foods and aggravated by a wide range of poorly understood biological and technological hazards. We and our loved ones often get sick with vague but real illnesses that we don't know how to treat. And we worry about relying solely on drugs, money, and our own sense of powerlessness to take care of ourselves and our families. Despite the many marvels that Western medicine can offer, it clearly lacks an essential element that can help us lead healthier lives and cope better with illnesses at home.
More and more people find this missing element in Chinese medicine. This rich, nature-based tradition consistently addresses a person's entire being--physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual--in the context of his or her day-to-day lifestyle. In doing so, it serves as the perfect companion to Western medical science, which tends to focus more technically on the particulars of a specific illness or condition.
As a doctor trained in both Western and Chinese medicine, I've found that combining the two systems provides the finest, most thorough, and most humane health care possible. Here are a few examples from my practice:
Sally suffered from severe migraine headaches. She took two oral medications regularly to keep them at bay and a third drug when the pain grew unbearable. Unfortunately, two of the medications were hazardous during pregnancy, and she and her new husband longed to start a family.
I taught both Sally and her husband a routine of pressing key points on Sally's body, based on the Chinese medical practice of acupressure, to help prevent or alleviate her migraines. Sally also learned a special style of breathing, advocated in Chinese medicine, to relax herself physically and emotionally. Over a few months, she was able to taper off using the two risky drugs for good; in their place, Sally started taking the third, more benign medication for quick relief of her occasional headaches. Now she and her husband have a healthy newborn son.
Two-year-old Melissa had frequent ear infections since she was six months old. She usually needed several courses of antibiotics each time she had an acute infection, followed by a daily maintenance antibiotic for months afterward. The medicine caused diarrhea and diaper rash. Jan, her mother, suspected that Melissa's four-year-old brother was bringing germs home from preschool, but she hated to withdraw him from his program.
Instead, I showed Jan special massages derived from Chinese medicine that she could give Melissa and her brother to bolster their immunity. I also advised Jan how to make simple shifts in their diet, according to Chinese medical principles, even before they showed signs of congestion. And I talked to her about how to combine these practices with commonsense Western home medical care. Now both kids are healthier than before. When Melissa does get an earache, she needs much less Western medication, and Jan can follow other Chinese-based massage and dietary guidelines to reduce any unwanted side effects of the medication.
David works long hours at a start-up company. A few months ago he was caught up in a vicious cycle of drinking ten to twelve cups of coffee a day to help him stay awake, and then taking sleeping pills at night for insomnia. After a full day's work and dinner at home, he usually felt too exhausted to do anything but collapse in front of the TV. It bothered him and his family that he wasn't up to more interaction, but there didn't seem to be much he could do about it. He tried for weeks to cut down his daily coffee intake and went to bed earlier to try to get more sleep without taking pills. He was only mildly successful, but he felt more tired during the day without his coffee and still couldn't really shake his evening sluggishness.
Then I showed David how to increase his energy with a little self-administered acupressure and a few simple exercises. He could do these in his chair at the office or almost anywhere else he found himself with a few moments to spare. Within two weeks of self-administering this program, he began to feel much more energetic and communicative in the evenings. Although he still needs one or two cups of coffee each day to feel human--and, occasionally, a sleeping pill on a bad night--the program has resolved the crisis. It's now second nature for him to do the acupressure and exercises, and both he and his family are reaping the benefits.
These examples suggest only a fraction of the ways in which Chinese medicine can complement its Western counterpart to treat health problems more successfully. In addition, Chinese practices can work wonderfully on their own to help keep the mind, body, and spirit in good, well-balanced shape so that health problems don't arise in the first place--or, if they do, so that they are less severe than they otherwise might have been.
Western medicine relies heavily on physician-based care, laboratory tests, and prescription drugs. One of the beauties of Chinese medical treatment is that so much of it consists of easy procedures that anyone can follow comfortably and confidently. All of the practices I recommend in the book--acupressure, dietary modification, stress management, proper breathing, meditation, and exercise--fall into this category. You don't need any special equipment, skill, or training to apply them in caring for yourself or your loved ones.
Two Opinions Are Better Than One
The core difference between Western and Chinese medicine lies in their concept of the human body. The two traditions take two different approaches. It isn't that one approach is false and the other is true. Instead, each offers a different perspective that has its own validity and its own limitations. When we combine the two approaches in our personal and family health care, we can get the best of both worlds.
Most of you are likely to be far more familiar with the Western perspective than the Chinese one, since you have grown up in a Western culture and have always relied on Western forms of health care. With this in mind, here and elsewhere in the book I will often describe Chinese medical principles and features in more detail than Western ones. Right now I'll establish the most basic differences between them.
Western medicine approaches the human body from an anatomic and biochemical standpoint. It sees us as physical beings made of many parts that can be dissected down to tiny, independent components. Western medicine adopts the philosophy that we are unique beings and that our intellect places us as far superior to all other living things. Chinese medicine approaches the human body from an energetic and functional standpoint. It sees us as whole beings made of energetic, physical, emotional, and spiritual parts that are intimately related. Chinese medicine adopts the philosophy that Man is a miniature replica of Nature, a living entity of Nature no more superior than the lion or even the tree.
Chinese medicine examines the life and health of a human being from a broader field of reference, one that includes forces and relationships that are not so easy to isolate or see. The guidelines in this book derive from four key concepts in Chinese medical theory:
- the existence of Qi or a field of "vital energy" coursing throughout the body
- the principle of Yin-Yang or "dynamic opposites" in the way the body functions
- the link to Nature through the Five Elements--Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal--in human existence
- the constant interconnection of the Mind, Body, and Spirit in human health
I am calling these four items "concepts" for the sake of convenience, just as I might apply the label "concept" to the principle of cause and effect or to the theory of bacterial infection. Calling them concepts doesn't mean that they have no factual foundation. In reality, the truth of these concepts has been verified by centuries of expert Chinese medical research and treatment. Even Western science, after a relatively short period of time spent investigating Chinese medicine, is beginning to validate on its own terms certain portions of these four concepts--a subject I discuss more specifically (when it's appropriate)throughout the rest of the book.
Nor do I mean to suggest that these four concepts operate in isolation from one another. During each moment of a human being's existence, they all function simultaneously and interdependently to keep that person alive and healthy, and any problem affecting one influences the other three. For the purpose of learning more about these four concepts, however, let's look at each one separately.
Qi: Our Vital Energy
Qi (pronounced CHEE) can be roughly translated into English as "vital energy." In its broadest sense, Qi refers to the natural energy that permeates all life forms and connects them with one another in what we call the natural world. Thus any personal illness can be said to relate intimately to the natural environment surrounding the person--including other people, the climate, the land, the air, and so on.
On the more individual level, Qi refers to the flow or field of energy within each human being. Thus illness can be said to result from internal Qi problems that manifest themselves in an individual's body, mind, and behavior.
This concept of Qi represents the primary distinction between Chinese and Western medical theory. As I indicated above, the latter tradition is based on scientific principles of physiology and chemistry rather than on the more broad-based principle of energy. Science has uncovered and continues to add tremendous amounts of information to our understanding of the biophysical and biochemical nature of the human being, down to subcellular levels. This information is concretely evident--something that can be seen, measured, and quantified.
On the other hand, Qi, the bioenergetic basis of Chinese medicine, cannot yet be directly seen, measured, or quantified. It manifests itself only in the varying degrees of a person's health or illness. I'm confident that technological advances within the near future will enable us to perceive Qi more directly. It's already being determined, for example, that Qi has electromagnetic properties. Qi is also starting to be described as the wave or energy part of the human body, while the anatomical-biochemical model is the particle or matter part. Meanwhile, a new field of bioenergetic medicine is emerging in the West that is making giant strides toward interweaving the two traditions.
So where in the human body is this Qi, this energy that can't be seen directly? Chinese medicine has established over the centuries that Qi is everywhere in the body. It circulates in the body along channels called meridians. As part of the blood, it moves within blood vessels. As part of organs and tissues, it functions within them. It is the foundation of our being.
Throughout its system of channels, Qi flows steadily in one direction. When our Qi flow is balanced and uninterrupted, we are healthy. When it's unbalanced or blocked, we become ill. Everything we do and everything around us can affect our Qi: our diet, our emotions, our thoughts, our actions and interactions, our lifestyles, and our environment.
In Chinese medicine, the three building blocks of life are Qi, blood, and fluid--a fact that will become more clear as I discuss individual health situations later in the book. This system correlates roughly in Western medicine to the body's network of blood, fluid, and nerves. While many acupuncture points are found along nerve routes, Qi meridians do not follow nerve patterns, and the nervous system is not defined in Chinese medicine.
In a moment I'll give more specifics about how Qi flows and functions within the human body. I'll also return to the topic again and again throughout the book as it relates to understanding and treating particular illnesses and conditions. Right now let's look at the larger picture: how Qi in general is influenced by--and manifests itself in--every aspect of an individual's life. Imagine a fairly typical, thirty-five-year-old American woman we'll call Sandra: a hardworking computer company manager with an equally hardworking husband, Tom, and a four-year-old son, Chad. Let's put ourselves in her shoes for a while.
A Day in the Life of Qi
Sandra has a frantic afternoon at work on Thursday. She dashes out of her office at 5:45 P.M., leaving piles of unfinished papers on her desk, so she can pick up Chad before his day care center closes at six. She curses the traffic and pounds on the steering wheel as she waits for the last red light to turn. Chad is waiting anxiously with his jacket on (it's a chilly, late-winter evening)when she finally arrives at the day care center.
Happy to see his mother after waiting so long, Chad begins blurting out all the exciting things that happened in day care: he dropped his sandwich in the sandbox, the rabbit got out of the cage, Stephanie fell, and so on. Sandra can only half-listen, preoccupied as she is with thoughts about dinner, bills, housecleaning chores, and that unfinished pile of papers on her desk.
Sensing her distraction, Chad pulls out his video game and starts pressing buttons, while Sandra pulls up at a drive-in ATM to get some cash for a fast-food dinner. The two of them are chewing their last morsels of burger and sipping their last drops of cold juice as they pull into the driveway at home.
The next order of business is getting Chad to take a bath. After bathing (and, against her good intentions, yelling at) a squirming Chad, Sandra parks him in front of the TV. Then Tom comes home, also exhausted, and pops the leftover bag of fast food into the microwave for his dinner. They talk about bills as he washes down his burger with a cold beer. Afterward Tom plays with Chad until it's time to put him to bed.
"Better give Chad some more decongestant," Sandra calls out to Tom while taking a sleeping pill herself.
Two weeks later, Sandra goes to see her doctor with complaints about general fatigue and irritability. Her physical examination turns out normal, as do all her laboratory tests. The diagnosis is "psychosomatic symptoms secondary to stress; mild depression." She refuses the prescription for antidepressants but takes the refill for sleeping pills.
At the same time, Chad has to see the pediatrician. His cold has lingered, and now he also has a sore throat. Sandra mentions to the doctor that Chad seems to be having more temper tantrums. After prescribing medication for the sore throat, the doctor assures her that the frequency of tantrums she describes lies within the normal range for a child Chad's age, which means there is no need for lab tests.
Among other things, this minisaga of Sandra and Chad (excluding Tom for simplicity's sake) points out the differences between Western medicine and Chinese medicine. In Western medicine, a physical examination or lab test that turns out "normal" means the person is considered to have normal health that needs no treatment. According to studies, as many as 95 percent of people who experience vague physical complaints are told by their doctors, "Nothing is wrong." From the standpoint of Western medicine, that's true. From the Chinese perspective, however, the truth lies much deeper.
Unhealthy changes occur in a person's energetic or Qi system long before any physical signs or abnormal lab results can be detected. Those few hours Thursday night for Sandra and Chad were loaded with adverse influences on their Qi. A basic knowledge of Chinese medicine would have made Sandra more aware of those influences and more equipped to modify, counteract, or eliminate them before they finally produced tangible symptoms.
For example, Chinese medicine emphasizes that healthy Qi flow corresponds to the natural order and rhythm of the universe. During the day, it is active; during the evening, it is winding down for overnight rest. On that busy Thursday evening, Sandra was physically, mentally, and emotionally very agitated. Everything she put herself through was as unnatural for her body as making a hibernating bear dance in the snow.
Chad, too, was much more active than was beneficial. The last thing he needed at 6:00 P.M. was a video game designed to make the brain react continuously on a split-second basis. Nor did he need his mother to yell at him, even if only a couple of times in the heat of the moment, for doing things that most four-year-olds do. The result of all these factors was Qi stagnation and deficiency--a state that can ultimately lead to the development of physical, emotional, and behavioral problems.
Another Thursday night event that was bound to have a negative impact on the Qi of all three individuals in many different ways was the fast-food dinner--both the food items themselves (among other things, loaded with artificial additives) and the quick, distracted manner in which they were eaten. Chapter 4 will go into this issue in more detail, giving you a sense of the problems involved in that kind of dinner. For the moment, let me give you one small insight into the matter.
Remember the cold juice Sandra and Chad drank (not to mention Tom's cold beer)? That coldness alone can create Qi problems. Western medicine tells us that whenever our bodies get cold, our metabolism slows down. So think what happens to Qi flow when we drink cold drinks with our meals. That's right: the frigidity shocks our digestive system's Qi and impedes its performance when it should be working its best. Since nutrition is crucial to our overall Qi balance, when the digestive Qi is impaired, our whole body will eventually also be affected.
And that's not the only potential problem with Sandra's and Chad's beverages. According to Chinese medicine, foods and drinks contain healing properties relative to their own natural coolness or warmth, which, in turn, depends on their season of harvest, as we'll discuss in chapter 4. There's a natural reason to eat, for instance, more fruit in the summer than in the winter. When we follow this pattern, we work in harmony with nature to maintain good health.
Nowadays, thanks to freezing and preservatives, we can eat fruit all year long, which can disrupt the healthy, seasonal rhythms of our bodies. The solution is not to eliminate eating fruit in the winter, but to avoid overdoing it, and, in general, to be more mindful about eating in tune with the time of year. Just as your body adjusts itself to suit the season, so should your diet.
Finally, the story of Sandra and Chad's Thursday evening discloses a host of technological interferences with their natural Qi. The sad truth is that these interferences are facts of life for anyone living in the industrialized world.
The most fundamental one is the alteration of natural day-night patterns caused by artificial lighting, which leads us to engage in all sorts of activities that are unhealthy for the particular time period involved. Then there's the issue of Sandra's almost total reliance on chemical medications to give her own and her child's health problems a quick fix. It's an understandable pattern of behavior for anyone living in the West, where science has long been the highest--if not the only--authority in health care. But for all the symptomatic relief that sleeping pills, decongestants, antacids, or antibiotics may bring us, they also can trigger serious Qi disturbances. Some are indirectly acknowledged through side-effect warnings on labels, such as gastrointestinal symptoms. Others are unmentioned and, to Western science at least, unclassifiable, such as a feeling of heaviness after taking a medication. That doesn't mean they aren't real or won't eventually result in vary palpable illness.
Another technological threat to Sandy and Chad's health on that Thursday was the electromagnetic bombardment of their bodies by all the gadgetry surrounding them, including Sandra's computer, Chad's video games, the microwave and TV in their home, and even the car itself, a moving electromagnetic field. This kind of bombardment almost certainly compromises Qi performance and, as citizens of the Western world, we all experience a heavy dose of it daily. We may not be able to escape it entirely, but we can at least become more aware of it and do what we reasonably can to reduce its negative effects. Chinese medicine can help enormously in this effort.
Qi Channels and Organ Systems
As you read through and use this book, you'll learn more about the different Qi channels that function in the body and how to help them operate to the best of their ability. These channels are roughly analogous to the organ systems in Western medicine, but there's a key distinction.
Organ systems in Western medicine indicate concrete physical entities. The lung system, for example, refers to the physical organs in the chest cavity and their immediately supporting physical structures. In Chinese medicine, organ-related Qi systems are functional entities that go beyond any one specific physical site in the body. For example, Lung Qi (Chinese-related terms are capitalized for easy reference) moves through a channel that goes to the chest, but also has points down the inside of the arm to the fingertips--points that can be manipulated to influence Lung Qi functioning.
In a way, you can think of the Qi system as an "energetically extended" organ system. To appreciate this interpretation, let's compare the Western and the Chinese definitions of an organ system.
Strictly speaking, a Western organ system has a specific network of blood vessels and nerves that connect it with other parts of the body. Think of the lungs, for example. They're supplied by pulmonary blood vessels and nerves that are connected with other blood vessels and nerves in the body. Thus a blood sample taken from the wrist or the groin can reflect oxygen activity in the lung.
The Qi system in Chinese medicine also connects organs with other parts of the body, but in a somewhat different manner. For example, the Lung Qi meridian goes to the lung and also down the front of the arm, and connects to other Qi channels. While Western medicine uses accessible areas along the bloodstream to get biochemical information about lung activity, Chinese medicine stimulates various spots along a Lung Qi meridian (known as acupressure points or acupuncture points) to bring about healthy Qi activity in that system. This book shows you how to stimulate appropriate acupressure spots manually to alleviate a wide range of common health problems.
To find out specifically where these points and others are located, see the diagrams in appendix D.
Yin-Yang Balance: Our Dynamic Nature
Both Chinese medicine and Western medicine aim toward achieving a healthy state of balance within the body. Western medicine calls this state homeostasis. Chinese medicine calls it Yin-Yang balance. The two words symbolize opposing qualities that exist both in the nature of the universe and in each person's individual nature, such as night and day, cold and hot, female and male, deficiency and excess.
T call these pairs opposites does not mean that they can't coexist at the same time. The Yin-Yang principle tells us that opposites are in constant evolution toward each other and that there is a component of one in the other. Within Yin there is Yang and within Yang there is Yin. The dynamism between the opposites is what keeps all of Nature in equilibrium instead of chaos.
It can be difficult for Westerners to grasp this principle because Aristotelian logic has trained us to believe that opposites are mutually exclusive: either a table is square or it's circular--it cannot be both. Actually, from a Chinese perspective it can be both, if you look beyond what is obvious and see the continuum of change that connects the two. For example, we can see a square table as a circular table that has sharpened its curves into corners, or a circular table as a square table that has curved its angles into arcs. Or we can see a table as having exactly the same center point, whether it's square or circular. Both tables have something in common, so they're not mutually exclusive.
In other words, any one entity, including a human being, is given its dynamic nature not by having a particular quality instead of its opposite, but by having a particular balance of opposite qualities. For example, among human attributes, physical strength and masculinity are considered Yang qualities, while emotional force and femininity are considered Yin qualities. Nevertheless, men are also emotional (Yin within Yang) and women are also physically strong (Yang within Yin). Indeed, no man is exclusively masculine, and no woman is exclusively feminine. Carl Jung popularized this notion in the West by referring to the "inner woman" in every man's psyche as the "anima," and the "inner man" in every woman's psyche as the "animus." Psychological well-being for men and women is a balance of the anima and the animus.
Because there is no absolute Yin or Yang in nature, everything lies along a circular continuum of opposites. Let's use the night/day pair of opposites to illustrate this point. Think of it this way: midnight, the deepest point of the night, is also the start of the next day; while noon, the highest point of the day, is also the beginning of the night.
Western medicine actually supports the notion of a physical Yin-Yang cycle without acknowledging it as such. Many of our biochemical and physiological functions, for example, follow a day-night balance system. Our metabolism slows down at night (the Yin period), so that we breathe slower, our blood pressure drops, our hearts beat slower, and we use up fewer calories for sleeping. Meanwhile, many biochemicals, such as hormones, are produced in larger quantities to equip us for activities during the day (the Yang period), when the other functions pick up speed.
In Chinese medicine, maintaining good human health is a matter of properly balancing the opposites--the Yin and the Yang--in every aspect of one's physical, emotional, and behavioral being. It means, for example, balancing activity during the day with rest at night. It also means helping the Yin and the Yang processes or systems in the body to operate in a harmonious way.
Physiologically, Qi is Yang (a kind of fiery energy similar in Western terms to the metabolic "burning" of calories), while blood and other body fluids are Yin. Yang organs include the "hollow ones," such as the Small Intestine, Bladder, Large Intestine, Stomach, and Gallbladder. Yin organs are the "denser ones," like the Heart, Kidney, Lung, Spleen/Pancreas, and Liver.
Illness can be caused by a Yin-Yang imbalance that is often characterized either as a deficiency condition (e. g., not enough Yin) or an excess condition (e.g., too much Yin). Many of the Chinese treatments that this book recommends for specific illnesses are aimed at restoring a particular kind of Yin-Yang balance, such as strengthening (or, to use the Chinese medical term, "tonifying") certain Yin factors to help alleviate a certain excess Yang condition.
Western medicine has an analogous approach to describing and treating illnesses but uses a scientific frame of reference. In Western terms, a deficiency or excess condition is referred to as the hypofunctioning or hyperfunctioning of a certain organ system. For example, a hypofunctioning adrenal gland would have signs compatible with a Yang deficiency condition, while a hyperfunctioning thyroid gland would indicate a Yang excess condition.
The Five Elements: Our Link to the Universe
Western and Chinese medicines have very different models for describing how the body works. Neither explains it all, but one thing is certain: knowing only one of them gives us a much more limited understanding of human health than knowing both of them, and having more understanding translates into better health care.
According to Western medicine, the human body follows biologic patterns of cell division and the formation of organs and tissues. Every noncellular substance in the body--such as sodium, calcium, or glucose--has a precise biochemical molecular structure. All physiological processes are described as a series of biochemical reactions, and the health of the body as a whole can be measured scientifically in terms of homeostasis: all cells and organs operating efficiently as programmed. This functioning scenario is essentially independent of all other beings and of Nature.
Chinese medicine takes a different perspective. It assumes a much more intimate relationship between human beings and the rest of the natural world (including other human beings). The Five Elements that they all have in common are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. In any individual's physical and emotional makeup, the Five Elements must collectively be well balanced as well as be in harmony with the rest of the natural world to ensure optimum health.
The Five Elements correspond to different parts of the body and mind. They also function symbolically to represent different aspects of a person's being. In chapter 2 we'll look at how the Five Elements relate to different systems in our body, thereby influencing our mental, emotional, and even spiritual health.
The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection
Western medicine is primarily a physical medicine, regarding and treating human beings as fundamentally physical beings. Herein lies its strength as well as its weaknesses. For all its success in identifying, explaining, and manipulating physical situations, it tends to leave out mental, emotional, and spiritual ones. When a physical cause cannot be established for a symptom, it is declared "psychosomatic," which, in many instances, gets unfairly translated into nonexistent.
In Chinese medicine, the human being is an integral composition of body, mind, and spirit. They can't be considered separately from each other, as they have been for centuries not only in Western medicine, but also in Western culture, philosophy, and religion. Nor can they be given blanket priorities in the treatment of illness, as they tend to receive in the West. As an example, Chinese doctors believe that emotional issues (part of Mind) can be even more important than physical ones in many chronic illnesses.
Actually, the Chinese don't categorize the various dimensions of human existence in precisely the same way that Westerners do. The Mind and the Body consist of three treasures of Life: Mind, Qi, and Essence. They correspond symbolically to the triad of Heaven, Man, and Earth; hence a familiar expression in Chinese culture, Man is a being between Heaven and Earth.
Qi, as we've already discussed, involves physical rgans and structures, such as the Western concept of the body, but it's also a metaphysical life force. One aspect of this might be called spirit--by Westerners, in the sense of an energetic force, but that isn't quite what the term Spirit means in Chinese medicine, as we shall see. Mind, which resides in the Heart system, refers not only to intelligence, memory, and emotions (which are given far more importance than they are in Western medicine), but also to Spirit.
From a Chinese perspective, Spirit does not have religious connotations. It refers to the two souls that all of us have as part of our being: the Corporeal Soul (the soul of our body) and the Ethereal Soul (the eternal, collective soul). The Corporeal Soul comes to us at birth and dies with us. The Ethereal Soul connects us with the eternal, collective soul world, the one that all human beings have in common (and that, we tap e.g., in dreams). These two souls are associated with certain organ systems in the body: the Ethereal Soul with the Liver system, and the Corporeal Soul with the Lung system. We'll examine this connection--and the nature of these two souls--more closely in chapter 2.
Essence, a Yin substance, resides in the Kidney and affects our development, our sexual functions, and our aging process. Essence contains what we've received from our ancestors, which correlates to the Western concept of genetic inheritance.
Hands-on Health Care
In Western medicine, the primary treatments involve chemical medications and/or surgery. As effective as this approach often can be, it requires heavy reliance on outside professionals, which frequently can leave patients and caregivers feeling helpless and hopeless to contribute to their own well-being. Chinese medicine, based on the four interrelated concepts I've just outlined, equips any person to take personal and family health care responsibility more fully into his or her own hands.
I've already touched on the importance that Chinese medicine attaches to dietary management in treating illnesses. It believes that every kind of food has medicinal value, according to how it relates to the Five Elements noted earlier. I'll explain this aspect of food more specifically in chapter 3. For now let me assure you that the treatments for particular illnesses described in this book involve simple, widely available foods, easy food preparation, and flexible menu-planning.
Another hands-on aspect of Chinese medicine is that it helps us maintain health or treat illness by making small, practical, and yet very constructive adjustments in day-to-day life. As you'll discover in this book, many of the suggested changes are as easy and, ultimately, as pleasurable as periodically taking a few deep breaths, engaging in some simple physical motions, or relaxing in various especially beneficial ways.
One of Chinese medicine's most effective hands-on techniques, however, depends literally on our hands: acupressure. Manually pressing key points on the body is a form of healing that dates back at least five thousand years. Many specific points were revealed over centuries of human experience as the spots that became tender during the course of an illness or that alleviated symptoms when they were massaged.
For example, ancient foot soldiers gradually realized that a certain spot on their leg was always particularly tender after hours of marching. They found that massaging the spot often gave them a surge of energy--enough to march a few more miles. As a result, it is currently known in Chinese medicine as the "Leg Three Mile" point. It not only relieves local pain in the legs but also helps with digestive problems and strengthens the immune system (which has earned it the modern title "Master of Immunity").
Scientific studies have now demonstrated that Qi flow possesses electromagnetic properties and that acupressure/acupuncture points are small areas close to the surface of the body that conduct electricity more readily than others. Stimulating these points can result in a change in electromagnetic energy and, therefore, in Qi flow. When you massage a point in a clockwise direction, energy goes into it. When you massage in a counterclockwise direction, energy comes out. As you'll learn in this book, illnesses characterized as "deficient" require the former kind of massage, while illnesses characterized as "excess" require the latter. At the beginning of chapter 6 you'll find easy guidelines for performing acupressure on yourself or another person, and later, each illness-related entry tells you exactly what specific points to massage.
Chinese medicine complements Western medicine. Chinese medicine not only provides a wider range of perspectives on human health but also gives us a much larger personal role in tending it. No matter what lifestyle we lead, what environment we live in, or what illness we're treating, we can develop a better, more beneficial understanding of our own natural selves and the natural selves of the people we love through Chinese medicine. As we do, we can also learn to care for ourselves and others more effectively. It's an exciting, highly gratifying endeavor, and the power to do it lies right in your hands!
Meet the Author
May Loo, M.D., is fully accredited in both Chinese and Western medicines. A Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford Medical Center, Dr. Loo teaches complementary medicine to physicians and other health professionals throughout the United States and China. She received the first grant by the National Institutes of Health to study laser acupuncture as a treatment for ADHD.
Jack Maguire is the author of several books on health and Eastern religion and philosophy, including Care and Feeding of the Brain and Essential Buddhism.
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