Last time, I shared some insights concerning “symptoms as messages,” a particularly unique way of approaching the body that the lens of East Asian medicine affords us. Today, I’ll share anotherpractical understanding that I apply in clinic during every single visit…
The teaching of the body and its restorative dynamics
“Restorative dynamics” is the teaching that reframes any and all pathology as the body’s positive effort establish equilibrium and deliver messages to the body. The teaching of restorative dynamics goes along with another saying from my lineage, which states that we are all simply and always “making contact to stay intact,” the two really help make sense of each other and cannot completely be understood one without the other.
Let’s start by exploring restorative dynamics
Symptoms, or pathology, basically what any patient “complains” of, can be seen through the lens of physiology. This means that the disease, complaint, or symptom is interpreted as something that the body was first trying to do to help itself. We see through the pathology into understanding the physiology that brought the symptom to bear. This logic extends that at one point or another what created the pathology was at some point, a physiological process.
For example, someone with an elevated heart rate may have just encountered a stressful influence. The person’s heart rate increases to afford the body extra circulation in case of the need to run or move quickly, defend itself, etc. After the stressor has left, gone away, been resolved, sometimes our heart rate stays elevated. This is because the body didn’t get the message that it was okay, to relax and slow the heart rate down again. So the body’s inherent wisdom can turn on itself, or get stymied in the process of trying to help us!
Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes? You just want to help yourself but you can’t?
Practitioners of Chinese medicine commonly understand pathology and disease as nothing more than life force attempting to express itself, and being stymied in that process. The theory behind restorative dynamics is that the body will not, for any reason whatsoever, produce a symptom (read: energy, personality, pathology) that has not served a purpose at some point in ones life. Further, any manifestation of pathology is one such dynamic that has, quite simply, outlived the circumstance in which it was called upon. This notion is predicated on the body’s inherent wisdom and the ecological approach.
A body (and necessarily a being) will do whatever it takes to maintain the integrity of the organism.
Here we bring in the saying that each human being is doing its best to maintain contact and stay intact.
This ‘making contact’ can occur at the level of interaction with another human being, or within the body as organ function, or on a grander, deeper scale where the individual tries to maintain relationship with life itself. Staying intact means doing anything that assists the being in a state of relative health and wellbeing, or, not obliterating itself. The idea of ‘making contact to stay intact’ speaks to personalities, attachment styles, and can even be translated directly to physical symptoms.
I have found that this is a concept that is easily thought of in a theoretical manner and often misunderstood or misappropriated when encountered in practice. This is not an easy teaching to put into practice, and often as human beings, and as practitioners we fall short, as we too, attempt to make contact and stay intact.
Making contact to stay intact means that every single action and interaction a person takes part in is their attempt at making contact (and staying intact) with their own experience, as well as maintaining relation to the world around them. Making contact means that each incarnate being wants to have connection, relationship, and interface with the world and the beings that make it up.
Staying intact means that as one makes contact, they do so to the degree that they are able to, based on that which holds them together, or makes them up. One of the first ways in which individuals manifest pathology is through personality; this is a very direct expression of energy. Chinese medicine is in the life, as Dr. Shen said; this means that every single movement, action, or thought a person makes is significant.
It is their attempt at maintaining contact with life and their attempt at living their life they best way they know how.
This means that when a person’s body produces an enormous rash that weeps copious amounts of pus and burns red, it is doing all that it can to make contact and stay intact. This also means that when a person enters into a deep depression wherein they are unable to talk to anyone, reach out to another human being, ask for help, or do much of anything – they too, are doing their best to make contact and stay intact. These manifestations are not limited to states that society commonly deems negative.
Alike, a person may encounter love, appreciation, and affection and react in a fearful manner. This is yet another example wherein the individual is attempting to make contact and stay intact. This tool gives us the opportunity to evaluate, or reevaluate, all of the times within our own lives wherein we interpret ourselves as misbehaving, doing wrong, making mistakes from this new lens of contact.
These two teachings are deeply expressed values of my clinical practice.
Is this a way you have thought about your body before? Does this feel new? Please write a comment below and let me know! And, as ever, if you would like to see how these principles integrate with the tools of classical Chinese medicine during an appointment with me, feel free to read more about my practice, and schedule online at any time. Thank you.
The clinic has been bustling with lots of healing here at Watershed Wellness.
It is incredible to watch people transform both inside and out. It has caused me joy and pause for reflection and consideration – why I do the work that I do? What are the most important things for me to return to day after day? What are the anchors of my clinical practice?
In my lineage there are many truisms, axioms, some would even call them mantras, that are repeated and repeated over and over to help us learn as students and ultimately clinicians. In fact, this is true for all of Chinese medicine (as well as specific lineages). I am devoting the next few blog posts to this; over the next few months I will share some of these axioms with you all, because they are a hallmark and provide insight into the way I approach treatment in clinic.
We’ll begin with an important one – “Symptoms as Messages”
I will devote the greater part of my entire life to considering the significance of the often repeated phrase that each symptom is a message. The teaching of symptoms as messages instills within each practitioner an ability to make contact with our own lives and the lives of our patients.
The examination of symptoms as messages affords us the opportunity to look at the truth of the body’s inherent nature – its rightful holistic and animistic place within the spectrum of “disease” and “health.”
This teaching of symptoms as messages is not only a profound shift in awareness for many; it disproves the objectification of the body so often clouding the consciousness of Western Culture.
No longer are ailments and dis-eases of the body separated from each of us as individuals, they are included and accounted for in lived experience. What I mean is, when we consider symptoms as messages we don’t objectify our very own bodies – saying, “Why is my body doing this to me?” As if the body is separate from ourselves?
Truly wrestling with the implications and influence of this teaching has changed my practice over the years. I used to think that it meant that every symptom was trying to tell us something about the person – or that it was speaking about the energetic to physical continuum of disease – and that was it!
Reflection on the teaching of symptoms as messages points us toward increasing our proficiency in the language that the body speaks to us.
Symptoms are the body’s language. Rather than simply looking toward the manifestation of pathology as something that the body is doing to us – or further, doing incorrectly – when we understand symptoms as messages we assume the inherent healing capacity within the body for health and healing and from there, seek to understand, to uncover the root of the symptom.
As clinicians, this is imperative! Otherwise we are only treating symptoms! And who wants that? Treating only symptoms goes against the core directive of Chinese medicine which is to treat not only branch (symptom) but the root (etiology) of disease. Often times this leads us back to a specific moment wherein a physiological process was stymied or obstructed.
The body, by producing a symptom, says, “look here” and points in the direction of the impeded dynamic.
For example, a patient has a phlegmy cough that is copious and productive – the body in its inherent wisdom, points us toward the lungs. You’re thinking, of course, but here is where it gets exciting. Instead of trying to cool or disinhibit the lung from coughing, we instead are going to seek to understand the dynamic that created the cough in the first place.
In this way, as practitioners we walk ourselves through the symptom; to be able to perceive the restorative dynamic that underlies the “pathological” manifestation. We then see through pathology into physiology and perceive clearly how to meet the patient where they are.
Our patients come to us; we come to each other, perfectly, in our states of dis-ease.
It is not our charge as Chinese medical practitioners to fix anything, but to engender the already inherent capacity of the body and of the vital force of life. This is how we fulfill our oath as practitioners, when we pledge that we will be “devoted to the task of saving the sacred spark of life in every creature that still carries it.”
It is from the body’s resolute determination and movement toward health and ontological expression that any symptom manifests.
These points of contact, these expressions, are where the body speaks to us, in symptoms as messages. I would love to hear your thoughts after reading this – does this resonate with how you look at your body, or this is a new perspective?
Please let me know if you have questions or responses to this post, or if you are interested in working together in clinic and have questions, do not hesitate to reach out.
As a complete medical system in and of itself, Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) inherently focuses on the person we are treating and not their “disease.” Any practitioner of CCM will tell you, “I don’t treat diseases; I treat people.” This is a medicine of pattern and number, it teaches one to see, to perceive, and heal in this same way.
Patterns are incredibly useful in medicine.
They allow us to differentiate, specify, and treat the person sitting in front of us. Over and over I have seen how this distinction is essential in clinical practice. You can treat someone regularly, daily even, for the signs and symptoms they present but in order to make lasting change we seek to treat the root and the origin of the symptoms themselves. Medicine is not “one stop shopping” and there is not “one cure” to disease. The root of a disease in my body will likely be different than the root of a disease in yours.
Chinese medicine itself is multivalent.
All at once, simultaneously, it accepts many truths, interpretations, and meanings. This can be disorienting to the more commonly western bivalent experience where having one thing excludes another, where we either “have” a disease or ailment or “don’t have it.” CCM theory holds within it multiple truths at the same time. This is something that teaches us not only about medicine, but also about life – about experience.
There is always more than one truth existent at the very same time that other truths are present.
I have recently journeyed into some easily accessible patterns throughout the discussions of the archetypes with specific reference to women’s health, the maiden, the mother, the crone. Today, I’d like to continue this journey, but with a different pattern, blood deficiency. Blood deficiency is a differentiation often discussed in women’s health as it is something that happens quite ubiquitously; it is often one of the root patterns we are addressing in treatment.
Blood deficiency does not mean that one person has less blood volume than another.
And yet, it could come about from someone having experienced a trauma where they indeed lost a lot of blood; folks like this present with blood deficient signs and symptoms. In Chinese medicine blood deficiency can also be created over time. Deficiency can manifest from not only frank blood loss, but more commonly, from stagnation that has created something that looks like deficiency because resources are stuck elsewhere.
When the etiology is loss of blood it can arise from childbirth, hemorrhaging due to trauma, surgery, etc. When the etiology is a more gradual depletion it can come from heat and stagnation, either from internal causes (the suppression or repression of emotions) or external causes for example lack of movement or sitting for many hours.
The qi moves the blood; anything that disrupts the circulation of qi can lead to blood deficiency.
My teacher’s teacher, Dr. Leon Hammer, has an oft-quoted phrase, “the blood is the repository for the softer emotions.” When we have the experience of plentiful nourishing blood perfuse our bodies, we experience easier access to softer emotions and flexibility both with ourselves and with others.
Symptoms associated with blood deficiency are irritability, insomnia, anxiety, poor memory, dizziness, pale complexion, and fatigue.
Blood deficiency can also co-exist with symptoms such as poor digestion, constipation, nausea, and headaches. Again, these are general signs and symptoms. In fact, this type of association as a one to one correlate is contradictory to the core of our medicine. We care most about what is happening for each individual person in the very moment they find themselves in our treatment room.
Pulse diagnosis is a very useful tool both for diagnosis and for directing treatment.
I rely on the pulse in clinical practice to help me differentiate where the deficiency is coming from in the specific person I am working with. The width of the pulse will help me learn whether or not there is blood deficiency. The corresponding qualities will help me determine whence the blood deficiency comes. Is it from a frank deficiency or stagnation? Is the pulse Thin and Deep, Thin and Yielding, or Thin and Tight?
When we talk about blood deficiency we are often talking about liver blood deficiency, as the liver stores the blood, but equally, we could also be talking about the relationship of blood within the heart, or spleen, or other organ systems for that matter! This is where the specific pattern differentiation comes in. Curious about how the Chinese medicine blood deficiency pattern might manifest for you?
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 InnerCanon (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, check out the first article here and the second article here.
Thank you for taking the time to read into my favorite archetype of all three, the archetype of the crone. For those who are not familiar with this archetype, the crone is commonly found in folklore and fairy tale depicting an old woman.
In this portion of the arc, the traveler is expanded in her personality. This is in contrast to the former two manifestations, the maiden and the mother. The two previous archetypes are depicted through the lens of beneficence, innocence, and self-sacrifice.
The crone has greater expression and identification – she can be either “good” or “bad”.
The crone’s heightened ability for self-expression is an important aspect of this archetype. The crone just is who she is – this is of the reasons it gets to be filed into my category of favorites. Let’s give a concrete example…
“Melinda, when you are this old, you can say and do whatever you want,” a trope my Grandmother used to say to me when I was a child. My grandmother was absolutely right. She had arrived into the archetype of the crone and was thereby granted far reaches of expression, ones greater than others around her. Her expression was, without question, deemed uncomfortable and there were even some times in which she was referred to as outspoken, she paid no mind.
The archetype of the crone in the arc of life grants connection to the divine feminine energy in the form of the direct current. Think of an inner fire hydrant coming at you constantly reminding you of how you really feel, instead of in monthly cycles.
The crone does not have to wait for insight.
Rather than processing emotions cyclically, every month the crone has a direct line, tether, and understanding to her experience. This direct current almost necessitates more authenticity. She is entering into a different time, she sees and experiences things with new eyes. All of that sounds great right? So far, we can’t see any idea why this would be a time in life anyone would want to avoid, or ward off! Tragically, the majority of western society does not happen to look at this time with the same honor and reverence that other cultures do. Folks are made to anticipate “shriveling up” and “becoming brittle.” This is simply not the case.
Given the proper tools and encouragement to listen to one’s own body the transition into the archetype of the crone can be exquisitely beautiful and meaningful. This does not mean it can be exquisitely easy. Much of my work in clinic is explaining that what is occurring is a natural process and something that the in many ways, needs to do.
The archetype is one of arrival, one of saying, “you’ve made it,” arrival often necessitates slowing down.
There is a good chance that many folks that arrive at this time in life have used much of their gas tanks throughout their former years. The resources that were previously accessible to the body at a seemingly limitless measure are now all of a sudden showing what they have left. This can be very alarming – just this transition of slowing things down can be incredibly challenging for many in the archetype of the crone.
This archetype, as much as it is freeing, has a fair amount of symptoms that accompany it.
Hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, headache, reduced libido, sluggish metabolism, vaginal dryness; all of these things are symptoms people complain of when they come in for treatment during this archetype. Often people feel as though they wish these symptoms would simply go away, and are not as interested in the mechanism that got them there. No problem! Chinese medicine is fantastic at treating the underlying pattern (often Kidney Yin/Yang, Spleen Yang, Liver Blood, Liver Yin deficiencies). In fact, we work with these patterns for folks who are transitioning all the time!
Now that we have a brief introduction to all the archetypes we’ll go back through some more symptom patterns related to women’s health and explain those from a Chinese medicine perspective.
In the meantime, if you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms yourself, or other things you think Chinese medicine might be able to help you with – be in touch. I’d be happy to consult with you about what I think we could address in our work together.
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.