Cycles of Seven in Chinese Medicine The Arc of the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone: Part II The Mother
Note to the Reader: Throughout this article I will be discussing the the arc of life in cycles of seven, which, in one of the foremost source texts of Chinese medicine the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (Huangdi Neijing) describes the life processes of a woman. Thus, this article in its most superficial, or exterior layer applies only to the feminine or female identified persons. Without question, the overarching themes apply to any human being inhabiting a body, regardless of gender or gender identification. For the sake of these archetypes we will refer to the feminine and use she pronouns. If you haven’t read the first article in the series, on the maiden archetype, check it out here!
This week we introduce ourselves to the archetype of the mother
A remarkable idea and word, mother, brings up many different thoughts and emotions to the fore instantaneously. Today, as we discuss the archetype of the mother, I ask you to substitute the word mother for the idea of “mother-ing.” In fact, the mothering, would actually be a much more apt way to describe this archetype.
When we avoid the distinction between noun and verb (mother and mothering), we have experience a more accurate way of depicting the way that the Chinese conceptual framework would see this. When we make this distinction, “the mother” is not deprived of her verb-ness or her action. Also, we immediately avoid associating this archetype in our minds exclusively with women who have children. This is imperative in understanding that the actions of the mother are of even greater importance than who or what she is giving birth to, or taking care of.
The archetype of the mother is associated with gestational wisdom. This is a time in the a woman’s life wherein they have the capacity to conceive of something, hold on to it, nurture it, give birth to it, and for an extended period of time (and in some ways forever) raise or rear it.
It bears repeating that a critical understanding here is that this archetype is not limited to the association with women who have living progeny, children, or offspring.
This is a time of gestational wisdom and mothering and people choose to mother in many different ways. Careers, relationships, animals, business ventures, hobbies, vocations, these are all eligible “children,” so to speak. There are also many who have children, and a number of other things in the previously mentioned list – this article applies even more fervently to them. In our culture today there is so much noise around who should mother, what they should mother, and when they should mother them. We are not limited in our scope here, today. And also, to be clear, I am under no illusions that often times this mothering happens long before the arc of this archetype occurs, that however is a topic for another blog post.
During the arc of the mother many will find their care of their own emotions being subordinated to the care of whom they are mothering
Be it a job, a degree, a career, or a little human, the needs which previously got to “come first” are now “second” and often times “third or fourth” in line. Sacrifices are often made in the service of the greater good. Too, there can often be a great deal of resistance toward this change and for good reason. Often times it is that which we resist most that is most important to our soul’s evolution. That said, this archetype is the longest archetype in the arc of a woman’s life which means these are dynamics worth considering.
It is of great importance that the mother also take care of herself and that she is wholeheartedly supported in doing so.
In order to maintain such a high level of integrity of function, the mother archetype often benefits greatly from treatment! Anything that can deemed a ritual or reminder of the capacity that is available at the time of this archetype is useful. In these cases, both acupuncture and herbal medicine can effectively treat (and in a sense remind) every single cell in the body of its inherent capacity,
It’s also true that regularly making contact via treatment with our cells and ourselves, we can remind patients that they can ask for support. We can aid in the shift of perspective and we can offer the nervous system some much needed respite.
Throughout this archetype there are many manifestations of menstrual patterns.
Menorrhagia (excessive bleeding), polymenorrhea (too frequent) and amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) are three patterns that are commonly seen (but not limited to) at this archetype. Individuals can also manifest combinations of all three patterns. There are a great many ways in which these patterns come to be; some come from overwork (either physically or overwork of the mind), nervous system tension, being exposed to cold temperatures while menstruating, fatigue, emotional stress.
The secondary vessels we discussed in the first installment apply here too, but this time we are looking at different ones.
Here your practitioner can work with vessels that address self-sabotage, fear of change, and self-stuckness, the resistance we mentioned earlier we can meet head on, and/or work with it gradually over time. This vessel will often be chosen in the treatment of the manifestations of amenorrhea. Another extraordinary vessel works directly with anxiety, helping with symptoms of long term nervous system tension and all the responsibility that comes from a life lived, this can assist in the treatment of menorrhagia, simultaneously. One of the most common things I hear from patients is that while treating the physical manifestation of their symptoms – their mental and emotional state will shift greatly too.
This is an added benefit when working in a system that acknowledges the continuum that exists between the physical and the energetic!
If you experience any of these problems, or think the approach I articulate here could be of use to you, feel free to get on my schedule so we can explore.
Note to the Reader: Throughout this article I will be discussing the the arc of life in cycles of seven, which, in one of the foremost source texts of Chinese medicine the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (Huangdi Neijing) describes the life processes of a woman. Thus, this article in its most superficial, or exterior layer applies only to the feminine or female identified persons. Without question, the overarching themes apply to any human being inhabiting a body, regardless of gender or gender identification. For the sake of these archetypes we will refer to the feminine and use she pronouns. If you want to see the second part of this series, you can find it here.
The arc of a woman’s life is measured in cycles of seven (fourteen, twenty one, twenty eight, thirty five, forty two, and so on).
These years of development and the transitions associated with each cycle are of great importance. The “curriculum” or set of lessons at each stage often go hand in hand with the signs and symptoms reported. Many, if not all of these “lessons” directly involve the person’s ability to build and increase communication with the body and the self.
The arc of life includes three major transitions, maiden, mother, and crone.
For the next three weeks we will dive into these patterns as an extended introduction to the topic of menstrual, menopausal, and urogenital disorders. This is an important preliminary step as I will be returning to these themes and the insights they can offer throughout our time together. Today, we will “meet” the maiden.
The word maiden in and of itself is an interesting introduction to the archetype.
I was curious as to whether or not the word itself would prove to be true in the analysis of the curriculum that this cycle covers. The definition of maiden in the Oxford English Dictionary, states, “1. archaic: an unmarried girl or young woman. 1.1 (of a female animal) not having mated. 2. [attributive] being or involving the first act of its kind.” It is important to note that at each stage we are offered increasing amount of access to what can be referred to as feminine wisdom, with shifting hormonal processes in the body – at each shift one experiences the potential for great learning.
It can be helpful to compare each archetype to a person who exemplifies this teaching in popular culture.
The archetype of Malala Yousafzai is a fantastic example of the maiden. If you are unfamiliar, Malala is known for her groundbreaking work promoting education for girls and young women; she is the youngest person to ever have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She is certainly exemplifying the “first act of its kind” in this way.
The onset of the menses, or menarche is associated with the maiden archetype.
A transition from childhood, the transition of the maiden is one where the young girl takes a step toward “becoming” a woman. The relationship to the body most certainly changes with the onset of the menses or the first menstrual period (menarche). As it has been taught to me, this is the first time the young woman makes contact with the wisdom of the feminine.
As her cycle continues the access to intuition, connection to her body, feminine wisdom flows in and out like a current. Often, emotions are processed for the maiden cyclically, often in tandem with the menstrual cycle. This speaks to the reference in the first article wherein patients report frustration at having to retreat at the beginning or during any part of their menstrual cycle.
Often times retreat is an important part of this process and should not be avoided or masked.
Dysmenorrhea (or painful menstruation) is something that is often experienced during the time of this archetype (90% of adolescents) that said, painful menstruation can certainly happen later in life as well (25% of women). There are two types of dysmenorrhea, one that is primary (a more common type) and one that is due to pelvic abnormalities.
Primary dysmenorrhea usually begins a year after menarche and is diagnosed by exclusion or after any potential pelvic abnormalities have been ruled out. The pain is thought to result from uterine contractions that are mediated by prostaglandins and other inflammatory mediators (Merck, 2015).
Chinese medicine has effectively treated dysmenorrhea for centuries and has held up in clinical trials, too.
Acupuncture shows a favorable effect in controlling moderate/severe NSAID resistant dysmenorrhea both in duration and intensity of pain. In fact, pain relief experienced at the end of the course of treatment, which at times were reported as completely asymptomatic, was maintained up to six months after treatment. Acupuncture not only acutely relieves the pain of dysmenorrhea but also boasts long-lasting effects.
As a Chinese medicine practitioner I believe myself to be among one of the most fortunate persons in the healthcare profession with all array of modalities that are at my fingertips.
One of the ways of approaching acupuncture treatment is to work with what are commonly termed the secondary vessels. The secondary vessels is a useful term for referencing various meridians in practice (and for discussion) but, to be clear, they are by no means vessels or meridians of secondary importance.
Without going into too much detail here, suffice it to say that these vessels are responsible for allowing life to unfold despite the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
When “life happens,” these meridians actually hold pathology so that the primary vessels can continue functioning.
One of these meridians in particular is quite literally a repository where we can store overwhelming experiences that are too much to handle (at any given time). Working with this meridian helps patients to learn to adapt and be flexible in many different parts of life. Incidentally, it treats menstrual pain and cramping!
Another of these channels allows us to strengthen our sense of self. This can really help patients process and integrate these life lessons, or parts of our own internal work. This vessel can literally help someone who has trouble retreating, resting, or even stopping in their day to day routine transitioning into a more positive experience around rest.
It is no accident, then, that same vessel works with folks that experience a lot of irritability, agitation, headaches, and fatigue, before and during menstruation.
As it happens, and as you have just read, these secondary vessels are absolutely astounding.
They hold within them the ability to access the very innermost parts of our being, both energetically and physically. It goes without saying that these meridians are incredibly profound in treating dysmenorrhea and other issues of menstruation and they too can assist us in integrating the profound teachings available and offered to us at each stage of life.
If any of these concepts have resonated and you’d like to explore what Chinese medicine treatment can do for you, I encourage you to learn more about me and my approach to treatment – and then get on the schedule. I welcome the opportunity to work with you!
Iorno V, Burani R, Bianchini B, Minelli E, Martinelli F, Ciatto S. Acupuncture Treatment of Dysmenorrhea Resistant to Conventional Medical Treatment. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2008;5(2):227-230. doi:10.1093/ecam/nem020.
Chinese medicine, specifically acupuncture and herbal medicine, have a great deal to offer in the treatment of menstrual disorders. If you can imagine any specific issue with menstruation, be it long, heavy, short, scanty, painful, irregular, we have got you covered.
Diagnosis and treatment of these various manifestations are described and outlined in great detail in our medical texts. Symptoms are explained and practitioners are offered understanding into the physiological (normal) function of the body. Does the category of menstrual irregularity seem somewhat general?
Fret not, specific manifestations of irregular menstruation are also detailed – someone who menstruates every other month, every two months, twice a year? All of these things are discussed in the materials that guide us in the art & science of East Asian medicine!
It’s remarkable how much specific information is provided to practitioners to help assist in ‘adjusting the menses’ in Chinese medicine.
In the west today, many folks are rather disconnected from menstruation (or their period). In ancient China menstruation was viewed as an inroad to understanding the a great deal about the health of the individual. Today, people think something to the effect of “ah, the shorter the better.” I hear, over and over, “my menstruation is great, I barely bleed on my first day, and then by day two and three it’s over.”
In our busy and often tumultuous lives, it can seem like not having the “inconvenience” of much menstruation is a blessing. Chinese medicine would likely share a different story.
What we are exposed to during menstruation actually matters and can greatly affect our health – which sort of begs the question, why do folks often feel like retreating or report irritability before menstruation? Could it be that our tendency for retreat is in fact in alignment with our needs?
Patients describe frustration that at the beginning of their menstruation that they “didn’t feel like doing anything,” or “didn’t make it to the gym.” When this comes up in the treatment room, we’ll often have a conversation about why they could be feeling that way and what the body could be trying to tell us.
It seems almost too simple, but we often forget to foster a dialogue with our bodies rather than just attempting to tell them what to do.
The same is true for folks that are nearing menopause, the frustration at the body for changing it’s pace and course is ubiquitous. Historically, at least in the west, the shift toward the pathologized perception of menopause is profound. Yes, menopause is an incredibly big shift in the body – but we certainly don’t need to avoid it at every cost. Chinese medicine has an incredible way of working with different organ systems to assist in these transitions.
No one needs to be equating the threat of menopause as a deathblow, or thinking that they will shrivel up, or deteriorate.
What I find so enriching about Chinese medicine is that every single time, the opportunity to engage in a deeper way with your own knowing is present. What I mean to say is, Chinese medicine affords us physiological explanations into the many processes that are happening in our body – and often provides an inroad to understanding our lived experience. This is very true for menstrual disorders, issues related to menstruation, hormonal regulation, and much more.
There are many explanations and approaches to the topics discussed in this introductory article. During this series I will attempt to go into various manifestations of these kinds of experiences and explain them from the perspective of Chinese medicine.
I’ll discuss different hormones associated with the arc of a person’s life and explore how Chinese medicine understands these – the bridges between east and west exist. In fact it is striking how for someone who has studied Chinese medicine, to see the overlap in terms and functions within the body.
I am very much looking forward to this exploration myself and I hope you will join me. If there are any specific issues related to menstruation, menopause, and the arc of health of an individual in general that you’d like to see written, please consider commenting or sending us an email. I’d love to know what you want to hear.
Note: the organ system names below are capitalized when referring to the Chinese medicine organ concept, which encompasses more than just the biomedical anatomical organ. We also tend to capitalize the five phase elements when we are referring to them by name.
Thank you for joining me for my last installment of the treatment of digestive disorders in Chinese medicine. Last week, I talked about the stomach and some of the ways stomach pathology can manifest in the body. I’ll build on some of what you learned in that article in this one – so go ahead and re-read that one using the link above, if you like.
As practitioners of Classical Chinese medicine, one of the foundational ways we learn to orient ourselves toward treating disease is through the organ clock. The organ clock is a specific part of Classical theory that holds diagnostic information in the form of archetypes and patterns.
Throughout this article I will use the organ clock to help you more deeply understand the Chinese medicine organ systems, including how each acts individually and how they work in relationship. Examining these relationships can give you many insights into yourself and the way you orient towards life. Seems grandiose, yes, but often true!
First, a little detail on the theory. The organ clock can be divided and examined in many different ways. One of these ways is to divide the organs into three sections, heaven, earth, and humanity. When we divide the 12 by 3, we find 4 organs in each section. Relevant to our discussion today, the lung, large intestine, stomach and spleen are categorized in the earth division. The heart, small intestine, bladder, and kidney are categorized in the heaven division.
Today we are going to focus on two organs from each of those sections, the stomach and the heart.
The relationship between the fire phase element and the earth phase element is of paramount importance. In the generation cycle fire begets or engenders earth, therefore, fire is said to be “the mother of earth.” Metal (recall lung, large intestine, stomach) is controlled by fire. This means we can use fire to treat the metal aspect of something, and that fire helps us create earth.
Stay with me, this will make sense soon. These relationships are important and hugely significant in Classical Chinese medical pattern differentiation, diagnosis, and treatment.
Chinese thought portrays the relationship of human beings to be “in between heaven and earth.” The human being is said to be the intersection between the two realms, the earthly and the heavenly. This is no small feat! We human beings seem to inhabit two different realms. We are charged through our very existence (whether we like it or not) to learn about both.
A practical example of this is a common thought many people have, “Why are we here? What is our purpose?” These could be categorized as spirit or heart based questions, that come from trying to understand this earthly realm.
It just so happens that in Chinese thought the heart is, arguably, the most important organ.
If you were too look, you would find phrases like “All Disease Comes from the Heart (Fruehauf)”, “The Heart is the ruler of the five organ networks (Huainanzi)”, “All of the twelve channel networks obey the orders of the Heart. Therefore the Heart is the ruler of the organ networks (Shen Shi Zunsheng Shu).”
It’s logical then to think that since the heart is such an important organ it must be in relationship to all organs, including the stomach. The heart-stomach connection actually goes deeper than that. Each Organ network has an associated hexagram, which provides further elaboration on the organ itself. The hexagrams associated with the stomach and heart are 43 and 44 respectively.
Herein lies one of the most fascinating and relevant parts of our journey today.
Think back to last week, and what we talked about regarding the stomach, and hunger, desire, taking a “bite” out of life (if you will). The hexagram 43, entitled Biting Apart (Fruehauf) associated with the stomach emulates this theme. The hexagram itself has one broken line at the top and the rest solid; it looks like a container, something that is designed to contain material things. The stomach being one of the organs that creates the material world through the body – transforming food matter into energy, and back into matter matches this process as well! The heart’s, you will find, is the exact opposite.
Hexagram 44, entitled Union (Fruehauf) has a few other translations, “Coming to Meet, Coupling, Meeting” as well. This hexagram shows the exact opposite, it is all solid lines, and one broken line at the bottom. Exactly what the hexagram associated with the Stomach would look like if it was turned upside down. As if the hexagram associated with the stomach were emptying its the contents and thereby a container that does not hold anything.
We can see here (again) this idea that the heart is associated with emptiness and the stomach is associated with being full.
As you can imagine, these energies being so similar, and yet so different – can cause some confusion in practice. If our hearts somehow become “flipped” we might see desires run a bit rampant. The “flipped” heart has the desire to be full. A flipped heart forgets its physiological need for emptiness! As you can imagine, here is where we run into problems.
The stomach which likes to be full, cannot in fact, be too full.
We know what happens then – the stomach U-Turn we referred to last week, ensues. We can encounter these “flipped” hearts and stomachs in our culture today. All around us we can see the desire to want more, to be filled, and paradoxically, we are never able to come into contact with the sense of enoughness, because the heart itself, needs to be empty.
Pretty remarkable, right?
If you’re still feeling iffy about this correspondence, may I present the common phrase Heartburn! When does this happen? When we have eaten too much, or when the Stomach’s physiology has gone wrong. The phrase brings me a lot of happiness because it’s almost as if we knew something about Chinese medicine just by virtue of knowing ourselves!
In treatment of stomach or digestive disorders we commonly employ the use of fire channels.
We use fire to control metal! We also use the fire aspect of many organs to help engender, or create a solid earth. If there are problems in digestion, we will look to warmth (using the principle of fire) to treat! Remember how we talked about that these ideas at beginning of the article?
If it interests you at all, reflect or observe your response when something happens to you. This “something” can be either good, or bad – how does it affect your appetite? Is it affected by sadness with a desire or repulsion of food?
When you are terribly busy and scattered, do you forget to eat? More and more correspondences! As my Teacher’s Teacher’s, Teacher (yes, that is three teachers) Dr. John F. Shen would say, “Chinese Medicine is in the life.” Dr. Shen would then explain that as practitioners it is more important to understand, to examine life, than to understand disease. He would say, “because disease comes from life.” Here we see that the relationship between the Heart and Stomach is no exception.
Interested in seeing how all of these symbols and correspondences result in excellent treatment for your digestive concerns? Jump on my schedule and we can get started.
Hello, Again! You’re still with me? I’m so happy that you’d like to read more about Chinese medicine and gastrointestinal complaints. Are you here for the first time? Welcome! Make sure to catch up by reading the first four articles in the series : part 1, part 2, part 3 & part 4 are ready for you…
One thing that we have yet to explore in our time together has been the Stomach! And certainly, in Western and Chinese Sciences alike, a GI series would be remiss without a journey into the Stomach.
Remember a few articles ago, when I talked about the difference between the Organ Systems we refer to in Chinese medicine and the western biomedical notion of the organs themselves?
This is important and relevant to our discussion today. Remember, Organ Network theory in essence, accounts for the entire “personality” of an organ. It’s sort of like understanding how each organ in your body relates to itself and how it speaks to the rest of your body too. If you haven’t, head back to that article so this makes even more sense!
The Stomach organ network is associated with receiving and absorbing, it’s elemental association is primarily Earth and it also has a Metal aspect to it.
Something that we haven’t really talked about yet is the animal associations with each organ – for the Stomach it is the Dragon! So, think of all things dragon (including fiery breath) and you’ve got it!
The Stomach is also dry – it has to be, in order to receive and be the first in line to begin the transformation process. That said, the Stomach dislikes an overly dry environment. Remember how the Spleen and Stomach are closely related? It will make sense why now.
The spleen, having a damp nature (but remember, liking warmth), and the Stomach, having a dry nature (but needing to be cooled), were meant to be – they balance dampness and dryness both in themselves, and in the body.
So, what does this actually look like in YOUR body?
The Metal aspect of the Stomach makes its desire to go downward. When in pathology, the Stomach does a U-Turn, and goes up. A common pathology of reversal Stomach qi is indigestion, stomach reflux, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Think about it, those of you that have experienced this, recall the hot, dry, burning feeling that goes up the esophagus, and sits in the chest? That no matter how much water you drink, or cold beverages you chug it doesn’t really go away. Sounds a lot like the Stomach Organ Network’s personality to me – hot, dry, and fiery!
As always, in Chinese medicine we are never only talking about the body in its anatomical aspects, we are always talking about the transformation from energy (thoughts) to matter (reflux in the chest).
A clear example is the personality that the Stomach has – it always wants more. It want’s to be filled up, dry, hot, and transforming. The phrase, “I am hungry,” takes on a whole new meaning here.
The Stomach contributes greatly to the “hunger” that we all have for life.
It’s like that feeling that you have when you’re excited about what you’re going to be doing that day – and you wake up with a “hunger” for it. This is good, but as with everything we want to see balance. We can see a lot of Stomach pathology in the desire to have more and more – and the feeling of not having enough.
This is common in much of today’s culture and sets up the Stomach’s desire to get stronger and stronger; this can be pretty dangerous. In example, untreated GERD can lead to more complicated presentations (esophagitis, strictures, Barrett esophagus) this unchecked fire and dryness can really be damaging.
In all aspects of health, but specifically with Gastrointestinal complaints, what we decide to eat really matters.
Foods that can cool and moisten a dry and unruly Stomach are: grapes, peaches, celery, spinach, pears, tangerines, grapefruits. Do you crave any of these foods? Sometimes our bodies can naturally lead us to things that will lead us back to health AND simultaneously ameliorate symptoms – it’s fascinating!
If you find yourself experiencing any of these types of symptoms and are interested in finding out more, get in touch! Also, stay tuned for one more article in this series, exploring the relationship between the Stomach and the Heart.
Exploring the many manifestations of gastrointestinal disease in Chinese medicine with you continues to be a very fun and exciting process for me. Last week we talked about the Lung and getting entrapped by grief and pain and how that impacts us. The week before that we discovered a little bit about how Chinese medicine looks at the Earth element, and what the Lung and Spleen have to do with your digestion.
Today, I want to talk a little more about the Spleen like we did last week for the Lung. We’ll investigate the question, how does the Spleen’s primary emotion, rumination, really make life and digestion a challenge?
There are so many different ways gastrointestinal (Earth) issues plague other aspects of our lives outside of simply our digestion.
This can be explained by one of the core tenets of Classical Chinese medicine – as above so below. This means that the processes and the ongoings of our individual bodies are emulating, or mimicking, larger patterns that we can see clearly in the world and environment around us! Essentially, think of it as each of us as being little earths ourselves walking around and mirroring, the processes of nature.
So, why does Earth (or why do gastrointestinal issues) plague other aspects of our lives? Because the process that the Earth is undergoing (one of life, transformation, death) is the exact same process that is happening inside of us! It’s as if the Earth is trying to teach us, nothing is a “thing”, it is all a process!
This strong influence the Earth has on us is also exemplified in the clinic – no matter what folks are coming in for, there is frequently an Earth imbalance that is also contributing to what they are experiencing.
Okay. I am getting too excited at all the connections!
Let’s circle back to where we started: the Spleen and rumination. I am delighted to report that when you look up rumination in the Oxford Dictionary you will find: 1. Think deeply about something. 2 (of a ruminant) chew the cud. The example sentence states then, “goats ruminated nonchalantly around them.” Even the definition (and etymology) of the word ruminate takes us back to digestion!
So what is rumination trying to teach us about digestion? That rumination and digestion are related – and further, that we should consider the relationship of rumination to digestion. In a sense, rumination is another form of digestion. By ruminating, we are digesting our thoughts, experiences, and memories. That said, rumination without transformation or resolution will most certainly muck up the whole process.
One thing that is incredibly important to remember here is that the Spleen is injured by cold. Therefore we can logically extend that the Spleen needs to be warm (if it can be damaged by cold). How can you cook in a pan that is not hot? We also know from Chinese medical theory that the Stomach and Spleen are Earth organs, and that these things called “transformation” and “transportation” come from there.
When the ancient texts point us toward “transformation” they are not simply talking about transformation of food!
They are speaking to the transformation of information, of stimulus, of everything that comes into our bodies through our sense organs. The Spleen is injured by cold – it needs to be warm to transform. Basically, over-thinking and rumination snuff out the pilot light of your own transformation! A compromised pilot light damages not only digestion, but potentially keeps us from moving forward, changing behavior, transforming, ultimately this can negatively impact our lives.
Interestingly enough, I would argue that the opposite is also true. Sluggish digestion, and the inability to nourish ourselves via food impacts our ability to change our thoughts.
As acupuncturists, we account for this, we readily understand the relationship between these types of energetics and the way this can affect the substance, tissue, and matter of our bodies.
If someone does not have this Spleen warmth generating the processes of their body they can be needy, suspicious, insecure, and readily seek warmth from others. Because they are not generating their own warmth, they can become dangerously codependent and forget, never realize, or have a terribly hard time believing that they are the only ones that will truly be able to generate their own fire for themselves!
Spleen deficiency matches this pattern, presenting with: fatigue, nervousness, anxiety, loose stools (sometimes with undigested food in them), poor appetite, pale lips, feelings of coldness, and bruising easily.
It’s true that living in a society that breeds a constant state of stimulation and plenty of things to ruminate over means that many of our spleens are impaired. We can help! Come see just how much of a positive effect Chinese medicine can have on not only your bowels, but your mind! Thanks for stopping by to read this post!
I hope you enjoyed my digression last week to talk about some important aspects of the state of medicine – especially Chinese medicine. I’d like to get back to talking about the way Chinese medicine can help in the treatment of digestive disorders. If you missed the previous articles in this series : read the first part here, and the second part here.
Last time we talked about the relationship between the Spleen and Lung in digestion.
This week I’d like to go into one of those organs more directly, the Lung, its relationship to grief, its metal aspect, and how this might affect our digestive health.
As we discussed last week, the Lung is associated with metal and therefore has a downward association. When we need to “let go” of something, often times there is an awareness of a downward movement there, putting it down, letting it go, allowing it to fall away. All of these metaphors are often used in discussions of grief or sadness – and interestingly enough highlight the metal aspect.
Metal Yang helps us to let go of attachments to thoughts or beliefs, as well as emotions and people.
The Lung is known as the sensitive organ, and is injured by grief (pain), sadness, and sorrow.
Relating to its metal aspect we can explain the Lung’s sensitivity by thinking of metal as something easily influenced by hot or cold. An example? Consider a metal spoon which absorbs hot or cold temperatures in an instant. In this way, the Lung as a metal organ absorbs, or gets easily overwhelmed almost instantaneously.
This can be the case for individuals who are either experiencing an acute period of grief – or even folks who experience grief on a daily basis. Being overwhelmed the grief can generate a state of melancholic thoughts and at times entrap the person. Metal that is in a physiological state will have the ability to be a conductor and a transmitter – absorbing things in a way that does not overwhelm allowing things to fall as they may. This is no easy feat!
So – if grief injures the Lung – the Lung is impaired – the metal down-bearing action is rendered less effective – therefore affecting the ability to let go of the grief. A self perpetuating cycle.
The Lung is one of two metal organs – the other is Large Intestine.
Large Intestine is the the direct connection between the reference in the last digestive post about letting go, and grief via the Lung, potentially creating constipation. We can’t go into extensive detail here, but briefly, the fact that the Lung and Large Intestine are paired means that they can have impacts on one another.
In other words when the Lung is impaired, the Large Intestine can readily be impaired as well.
What is paradoxical here, is that Metal Yang deficiency can indeed be a self-perpetuating cycle. Physiologically the Lung and Large Intestine want to move down, to let go, but when the Lung is injured by the emotion of grief – both the Lung and Large Intestine are affected and less able to function in their optimal state.
When we treat digestive issues in a person who has been experiencing grief, then, we must address the whole picture.
In a Chinese medicine appointment for issues like this, practitioners look at Lung’s diverse functions as well as those of Large Intestine. Most importantly we look at how the two of them, working for or against each other, impact the physical and emotional experiences of of our patient.
Metal yang deficiency can look many different ways – there are diverse symptoms that can manifest from similar imbalances – this is one of the most interesting things about Chinese medicine.
I also want to emphasize the fact that Metal Yang in large part helps to create and strengthen the Earth. Here it is in a literal sense – without Metal’s downward ability to enact its function – the digestive processes are impaired. At the same time, this plays out emotionally.
The Earth can also be looked at as the self, as I mentioned in previous articles. Emotionally, Metal Yang deficient patients have trouble “letting go” in the sense of boundaries – of separation – and individuation. This can become incredibly detrimental, and put simply – is not useful as Metal Yang deficient patients are often grasping after everyone and everything, not wanting – or worse yet, not knowing how at all – to “let go.”
Any change in variability – as mentioned in the beginning of the article – can be very tough for someone who is lacking Metal Yang.
This is related to another critical aspect of the Lung – its relationship to rhythm, and thereby stability. Any change in what is perceived as stability can rock the entire experience of this person – which truly speaks to the variability in bowel presentations people experience and report.
One of the most remarkable and core tenets of Chinese medicine is its ability to bring everything into perspective – and the amount we can learn about ourselves in the process. If you would like to talk with me about how your emotional and digestive health are intertwined, jump on my schedule and let’s get started.
Chinese At Heart – the Impacts and Implications of Chinese Medical Theory in a Dominantly Western Paradigm
If God gives us life and we continue as we have, some day when I’m a pile of ashes and the smell of smoke in your memory is all you have left of these days, then you will see situations and sicknesses never seen before. I have no idea what they may be; I have no way of recognizing them with our very old ways and traditional roots. But you’re the new one who’s going to have to find special medicines to deal with them, instead of just using the old things because they are old. You must find new ways to do old things, and new medicines with old roots to cure the bad times made by new things.
This week I’d like to take a small break from the discussion of gastrointestinal diseases to discuss a relevant and pressing issue for each of us as people who participate and contribute to the healthcare system in this country – and further – the practice of Chinese medicine (CM) and its relationship to the western biomedical milieu.
In many ways, the practice of Chinese medicine is becoming more standardized toward the western view of health and disease.
Increasingly, I see practitioners arguing that we should value the seemingly objective nature of lab results while distrusting/negating patient reports about their own experience in treatment. In this view, the holistic and subtle underpinnings of Chinese medicine are deemphasized. This seems, particularly for classical practitioners like myself, to be a gross violation of the principles of the medicine. In some cases, this change in Chinese medicine even includes turning away from the complete and comprehensive care well trained practitioners can deliver. Instead, some would have it be simply technical, protocol-based medicine, bereft of its life-giving root.
There are enough things that are taking us away from our bodies and their inherent knowledge, attempting to simply ameliorate suffering, rather than listening to the signs and symptoms the body and learning from them; we must draw these two back together. Far too many standardized approaches exist that ignore the nuance and subtle differences inherent within every individual human being.
A holistic approach does not simply ameliorate pain, it involves exploration of how the current signs and symptoms the patient is experiencing are not separate but are in fact – related to each other – and to the patho-physiology of the body in question. In this regard, Chinese medicine is a tour de force.
What happens when we introduce these concepts to patients? Profound and long-lasting change, unwavering validation, and often a pause with utter acknowledgement. Immediately the relationship between the patient and their body is re-enlivened, repaired, and healing begins. The same thinking that brought on the disease will not be the same thinking that heals the disease. If this critical component – the patient’s relationship to themselves, and to their own bodies – is rendered unreliable, or even deemphasized, I fear we will be heading down a path of further disintegration.
Chinese medicine and CM theory hold the key to examining our lives – both in health and disease – in a way we are longing for so desperately.
In western cultures, we often separate the body from the spirit or mind. It’s not so far fetched then that medicine that comes from that root would fail to see the subject’s experience as relevant in understanding what brought them into disease. As the establishment of this thought in western biomedicine is so intertwined with the Cartesian dualist split of mind and body, these two parts of a being are no longer examined as one. Simply put, this theory that splits body and mind, or the person from their experience – can in and of itself, engender disease.
It is my conviction that a new approach toward medicine is necessary for our world today.
It is here where a new approach and perception gains fluidity and thereby greater perspicuity of the reality at hand – we live in a society where both western and eastern interventions are relevant and necessary – but we cannot forgo one in favor of the other. Chinese medical theory of Yinyang directly applies!
In the US, we hear Yin and Yang referred to as if they were two separate things – we understand they have a relationship but they are oft referenced without the emphasis that if one does not exist – neither can the other. The Cartesian split is somewhat of an example of Yin and Yang that fell short of its potential. The implication of a connectedness still exists by comparison, but the emphasis that if we do not have one, we could not experience the other, could be afforded more credence. Too, we must understand that there are TWO parts to this ONE and, simultaneously, that there is ONE and it consists of TWO.
As is true for nearly all binaries and dualities, these two, Yin and Yang, are in fact one.
The purpose of the artificial division painted here and within the theory is merely for discussion and conceptualization of the dynamic (read relationship) between them. Yinyang is a conceived notion that teaches about the continuum of existence. The relationship that obtains between the two being of utmost importance. This signals to us that we must not pay as much attention to the two individually, but to create space in our minds for the emphasis of their relationship – where two can be, in fact, one. This is true for each of us as practitioners, and seekers of Chinese medicine, in the West.
Zhang Xichun, one of China’s great scholar-physicians lived from 1860-1933. In this time he greatly contributed to the field of Chinese medicine and in large part, was responsible for ideas integrating Western and Chinese medicine together. This is not a new issue in our field – this is one that has been examined for decades. In the last year of his career, Xichun’s contributions were brought together under the title, “Chinese at Heart but Western Where Appropriate: Essays Investigating an Integrated Form of Medicine.”
Xichun’s perspective is a fascinating one that resembles much of what I was taught during my time at NUNM – this perspective is missing in the overarching rhetoric I am encountering in Chinese medicine today. Namely, that if we trace classical thought patterns down to their genesis – we will indeed find the philosophy, axioms, and theory that in fact explains – or most certainly runs parallel to, western biomedical ways of thinking. That being said, the emphasis here is to keep, “Chinese at Heart,” trusting the laws of nature – and understanding that as human beings connected to nature – we in fact operate under these same laws ourselves.
Often times when we separate the body from the mind, or the body from its environment, the body is no longer functioning as a whole.
When the body and the mind are separated, the body and spirit become objectified, and the body can only be examined by what it produces. No longer is relationship between the spirit being, and the body, held in the fore of our minds. There is proof of the importance of this connection in both eastern and western disciplines – one certainly cannot argue that the body continues to exist without the animating force of spirit within it – we witness this at death.
Rather than neglecting the body’s innate intelligence, as Classical Chinese medical practitioners, we understand that with great care, with great perseverance, the body is always attempting to keep both itself (the physical being) and spirit intact, quite literally, in form. In conclusion, I present you with a few of my own questions…
- What impact might it have on the western biomedical body; to be so disconnected from that which animates it?
- How do society and the capitalist model impact the way we view our own bodies?
- Why is it that – that which is exalted is in fact only the things that the human being (and therefore the body) produces? This includes lab work, x-rays, not to mention – one’s work, home, wage and living earned, what the person does, and or what they manufacture, etc.
- What impact does this type of viewpoint have on our bodies?
- If medicine does not account for this connection your body becomes a thing-in-itself?
All medicine would be remiss for turning only to seemingly objective lab findings and results – we need to listen to our patients. Without doing so we deny the potential of honoring the connection between our spirits and our bodies and thereby true healing – the shift in consciousness, awareness, and relationship that a person has to their own body and their own lived experience. If this description of health and healing resonates, please feel free to look at my bio and hop on my schedule.
Stay tuned for the next article in this stream of thought coming soon…
Thank you for reading along with me and my investigation of treating digestive disorders with Chinese Medicine (CM). Last week talked in very broad strokes about digestive disorders — how many people are affected, what happens in diagnosis and treatment from a western perspective, and where Chinese medicine can be of incredible use in the diagnosis and treatment of digestive disorders.
We introduced an important idea – Chinese medicine making contact with specific places in the body and how this becomes an integral part to successful and long-lasting treatment. Today we will be talking about a few of the specific places that Chinese medicine makes contact within the body to heal digestive disorders — namely the Lung and Spleen.
In any medical study there are always varying levels of concepts and ideas that are critical to understanding the ongoing of the body at any given moment.
This is especially true with regard to understanding gastrointestinal disorders. You can already recognize this in reading the title. As you do so, you may find yourself thinking, “How do the Lung and/or the Spleen tie in to my digestion?” In order to explain this clearly (and hopefully succinctly) I am going to dive into a little bit of CM theory to start.
First, understand that when I am discussing the Lung and Spleen from the perspective of Chinese medicine, I am referencing something more than the simple anatomical organs we have come to know in the western biomedical science. In fact, we really think of them as “organ networks.” Organ networks within the context of Chinese medicine theory do include the anatomical organ, but also include various functions in the body that may not be located in the anatomical organ. There are energies, emotions, connections and other information embedded in organ networks that you won’t find in the common biomedical sense.
This introduces us to an important point. Chinese medicine is a medicine of relationship!
CM practitioners are always thinking about the interaction – and never really about anything (organs, pathology, signs, symptoms) in isolation. This will hopefully make more sense as we go – stay with me. Each Organ Network has an elemental association, (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal or Water); the Lung is Metal and the Spleen is Earth. Metal is associated with downward movement, letting go, releasing. The Spleen is associated with rising, upward, and maybe even more accurately “the middle” as a direction.
Earth is associated with transformation, stability, fecundity, ripening, maturing. It’s possible that just by looking at those words and associations you can start to understand how the Lung and the Spleen play a role in our digestive health – we can see how a transforming and at the same time a downward movement would be very important throughout what we could term, the digestive process.
We have just been introduced to one lens through which we must understand the digestive process in terms of CM. We will now discuss another that builds on the first.
The Lung and Spleen are a part of the a system of diagnosis we call the Twelve Organ Networks – those twelve, combine in pairs of two, and become a system of diagnosis known as the Six, or the Six Conformations. Now, without getting too hung up on these titles, and names, what is important to see here – is that I am still talking about relationship – nothing in isolation! The Lung and Spleen are a pairing that make up one of “The Six” I refer to above. Together they are in charge of working with another pair of organ systems, the Large Intestine and the Stomach, to balance dryness and dampness in the body.
Let’s pause here for a moment and realize that students of CM spend years and years studying and attempting to understand these concepts. I am not expecting this all to make sense immediately – but, if you have made it this far, keep going – you are almost there!
The Lung needs to be able to let go, to release, to move downward, sounds a bit like defecation, right? We want to be able to have a smooth and normal, easy to pass, bowel movement. The Lung (organ network) affects the body’s ability to do this. These organ systems we are discussing share an energy, a certain flow, a set of functions in the body.
Each organ network is injured by particular emotions — remember when we talked about the connection between the emotions and digestive disorders last week?
The Lung is injured by grief (which can also be referred to often as sadness, or even pain) – have you ever noticed that when things are stressful, or sad, and you’re not able to take the time to process you can become constipated, experience sluggish digestion, or have trouble feeling like your bowel movement was complete?
The Spleen is injured by worry, repetitive thoughts and thought patterns that play over and over in our minds. I’m sure nobody reading this has any idea about that, right? Without a calm unfettered mind, the Spleen’s ability to hold itself upright, or enact its quality of lifting in the body is impaired. This can create an inability to transform, inability to lift, or hold, and instead, too quickly passing through, which sounds a lot like diarrhea to me — have you ever had a stressful situation that created a sense of urgency to evacuate your bowels?
A clear parallel of these two examples are presented in the western biomedical diagnosis categories of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – which are divided into three, IBS – Constipation, IBS – Diarrhea, IBS – Mixed Patterns. These patterns are often also referred to as “stress mediated,” meaning, these syndromes flare up in times of duress.
So, how does Chinese medicine make contact with a specific place in the body to help treat disease?
Thanks to the incredibly detailed, thorough examination, and diagnosis process — we are able to listen to your body tell us exactly where we need to go.
We believe the patient is the only resident expert in their experience. We’re not the experts — so we listen. There are specific patterns we listen for, these patterns are associated with the Lung, and Spleen, (and all other organs as well). We use acupuncture meridians and herbal medicine to make contact with, enliven, and ultimately heal – those specific organ networks and therefore – functions in the body!
Earlier I said that in CM we never think about anything in isolation. I also said that CM has the ability to make contact with specific places in the body – that treat the manifestation or the root of disease rather than simply ameliorating the symptom. Upon reflection, those things could seem like they contradict themselves. They don’t.
In Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment, we are able to recognize patterns that point us toward specific places in the body and the relationship that each one has in its (critical) role of creating the signs and symptoms of disease. We use that pattern differentiation to touch back into that very place where disease is rooted. This is how we work toward making contact with a specific place in the body, and healing the all important inner relationships at the same time.
If you’re enjoying this exploration of digestive diseases and Chinese medicine and think you might benefit from talking with a practitioner, you can get onto my schedule conveniently online. I’ll be looking forward to talking with you. Watch next week for another article exploring yet another aspect of how acupuncture and Chinese herbs can treat serious digestive disorders. If you’re not already on the newsletter, please sign up to get notifications of our latest content and all the clinic news.