Author: Melinda Wheeler, LAc

Introductory Article to the Arc of Health and Life in Chinese Medicine

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.

Chinese Medicine Is In The Life: Exploring the relationship between Heart and Stomach


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.

Organ clock with heaven / earth / human being divisions (inexpertly drawn by Eric Grey, LAc)

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

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.

Hunger, Dragons & Digestion in Chinese Medicine


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 dragon chinese medicine acupuncture stomachStomach 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.

chinese medicine acupuncture hunger stomachIt’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.

Rumination, transformation and the Earthy connections in your digestion


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!

Grief and Digestive Issues – Are They Related in Chinese Medicine theory?


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.

-Martin Prechtel

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…

Treating digestive disorders using Chinese medicine, Part 2 : The role of the Lung and Spleen

digestive problems chinese medicine

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.

digestive problems chinese medicine

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.

digestive disorders chinese medicineWe 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.

Treating digestive disorders using Chinese medicine – what’s important?

This will be the first a small series on treating gastrointestinal disorders with Chinese medicine. Sign up for the newsletter to get notification of the latest articles!

The National Institute of Health reports that 60-70 million people are affected by digestive diseases yearly in the United States. In 2010, 36.6 million people went to their doctor’s office and were diagnosed with something that fell under the category of digestive disease.

When people experience digestive signs and symptoms the entire process of diagnosis and treatment is difficult.

Often these diagnoses mean that something more serious has been excluded, i.e. cancer – and this can provide immediate emotional relief. That said, this emotional relief ultimately passes and the treatment options can leave the patient feeling helpless and dependent on prescription medication.

Why? Some say it is because conventional biomedical treatment is not directly treating the disease or the syndrome itself. Standard of care treatment often attempts to bypass the disease process at one of its manifestations, or most often, shuts down the body’s natural response (immune response or inflammatory cascade) thereby decreasing the signs and symptoms of disease.

In an attempt to alleviate the suffering of the patient, medications are given to assist in the amelioration of the discomfort the patient reports while the disease process ensues. Often times these medications have serious and damaging side effects.

One of the teachers at my alma mater (National University of Natural Medicine) often quotes the revered Chinese medical text, the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, Suwen Chapter 5:

“The wise observe similarity, the unwise observe difference.”

It has been my preference to vigorously adopt this theory in all ways possible, especially with regard to the lines often drawn between western medical and ancient Chinese sciences.This comes to the fore here in our discussion of digestive disorders because, in fact, west and east both agree that one’s psychological makeup will indeed affect one’s digestive health. Chinese medicine agrees, this premise is founded directly in the clear correlates between organs and emotions outlined in Chinese medical theory.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have held up in controlled studies against the medications prescribed for digestive disorders, as well, shoutout to the evidenced based reader.

“In comparative effectiveness Chinese trials, patients reported greater benefits from acupuncture than from two antispasmodic drugs (pinaverium bromide and trimebutine maleate), both of which have been shown to provide a modest benefit for IBS. (Manheimer, et al.)”

One of the recommended treatments in western medical science for patients with IBS is elaborated, “Patients should be invited to express not only their symptoms but also their understanding of their symptoms and the reasons prompting a visit to the health care practitioner (Merck Manual, Professional Version, 2017).”

Interestingly enough, taken out of context, the above quotes could easily be from a lecture on how to do a Chinese medicine clinical intake!

Our medicine wants to discuss with patients what their experience of their disease is; this is our charge, our goal, and our honor as practitioners. In fact, in the same text referenced above, the Yellow Emperors Inner Classic, it also states, “In order to make all acupuncture thorough, one must first cure the spirit.”

The patient’s relationship to themselves and others is deeply diagnostically significant.

Chinese medical pattern differentiation (our version of differential diagnosis) allows us to direct our treatments to the very specific location in the body where the disease is rooted. Making contact with the specific place becomes critical and an integral part of successful and long-lasting treatment; I will go into more specifics of how this actually works this in the coming series.

This not only applies to a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but to many other digestive complaints, including Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. These diseases are thought to have an immune or auto-immunity component to them, as in Crohn Disease (Crohn’s Disease) or Ulcerative Colitis respectively.

Here again, Chinese medicine investigates the patient’s relationship to the self as a consistent focus of treatment — throughout any disease but specifically in the context of digestive or gastrointestinal disorders.

I’ll write again shortly digging more deeply into these issues – in the meantime if you’d like to learn more about whether your particular digestive issues could be helped by acupuncture and Chinese medicine – feel free to check out my schedule and come share your story with me.


  1. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Opportunities and Challenges in Digestive Diseases Research: Recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2009. NIH Publication 08–6514.
  2. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 May 16;(5):CD005111. doi 10.1002/14651858.CD005111.pub3. Acupuncture for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Manheimer E, Cheng K, Wieland LS, Min LS, Shen X, Berman BM, Lao L. {}

Melinda reports back on her luckiest assignment yet – a massage by Lindsey at Watershed

Lindsey Reyonlds, LMT

Watershed Wellness’ newest massage therapist Lindsey is a wonderful addition to the team. I had the opportunity to work with Lindsey recently and it was a great experience. Lindsey’s kind and present demeanor immediately made me feel at home during the intake. She asked insightful questions – and from my symptoms was able to define a few possible patterns throughout my body that were likely creating the symptoms I reported.

During the beginning of the massage Lindsey addressed a problem I neglected to report!

I started laughing because I couldn’t recall how she knew! The massage made sense – she worked on things in a particular order that truly allowed my body to relax more and more deeply with each section. I appreciated this, as it is something that I haven’t always noticed about massage before.

Even in the parts or portions that were tender, Lindsey did a fantastic job following the quality of the tissue and listening as my body responded. Lindsey was incredibly open to feedback and reminded me of that throughout the massage – although she didn’t need it. I found myself drifting off to a dream-like state which signals to me that my body felt completely at ease.

Lindsey’s transitions were so great that I barely woke up during each of them. At the end of the massage she brought me back to the room to say that our time was up – it seemed like barely any time had gone by, I was so relaxed. Each of the areas addressed in the intake felt different, more relaxed and more receptive!

To close the session she gave me some stretches and other things I could look for in my posture that were continuing to perpetuate the patterns. These stretches are effective and easy, they are working wonderfully combined with the recommendation of a movement practice. I look forward to working with Lindsey in the future. She’s a wonderful addition to the stellar LMTs at Watershed Wellness.

Be sure to get on her schedule before she’s booked 6 weeks out!