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?