by Gene Chuah
As they say, “opposites attract”, particularly in the context of relationships. In yesterday’s Fundamentals of TCM class, we learned how Traditional Chinese Medicine, through the Yin-Yang Model, explains this phenomenon.
It’s quite simple, really. We’ve got the 2 sides of the coin :
… and now for the less obvious ones :
|back body (dorsal)||front body (ventral)|
Yin and Yang are :
The two forces are constantly pushing each at other, always aspiring to get into balance, but they never do — because as soon as that happens, something changes again and the constant tug-of-war (well, push in this case) continues. They day it stops is when “life” (whatever system it may be) stops, either because it has run out of steam, or because one side became so unbalanced that the system got out-of-whack, broke and had to come to an end.
Some examples : hyperthyroidism vs. hypothroidism; acidic vs. alkaline., sympathetic vs. parasympathetic nervous systems, anabolic vs. catabolic.
Another example we discussed : Stomach (TCM) vs. Spleen TCM). The Stomach is Yang (runs hotter), while the Spleen (which in TCM represents the function of the intestines) is Yin (runs cooler). The Stomach and Spleen are constantly “pushing” at each other in the sense that Stomach sends heat (Yang energy) to Spleen, which lacks it and needs it to run. Spleen in turn sends “cooling” (Yin energy) to Stomach which tends to overheat.
In treating imbalance of the Stomach/Spleen, where we see symptoms like heartburn, nausea, thirst and hunger (all symptoms of “Stomach Fire”), we use acupuncture to help “nudge” the energies from each organ where they need to go (Stomach->Spleen and Spleen->Stomach). Sometimes cycles get stuck and they just need a little nudge. Herbs and diet are also treatment options (e.g. cooling alkaline foods like veggies).
Most ailments in Western society are due to the fast pace of life and resulting stress, causing a “burning of Yin” among most people. Because Yang energy is so predominant and excessive (UFC, monster truck rallies)?, Yin is needed to bring it into balance, but gets “burned up” fast. What comes to my mind is a car engine overheating, blowing the radiator cap and burning up the water (the Yin). In turn, the remaining Yang energy also gets depleted because it lacks a “control” (Yin) to keep it cool — back to our car analogy, the engine overheats to the point of meltdown. Hmm. I think I may have been almost there… haven’t you?
When Yin and Yang are out of whack with each other, disease appears in the body.
The two forces can’t exist without each other. They need each other, they define each other. Even though opposite, it is a complementary, symbiotic relationship. The quality of the energy of this relationship is ever-changing, in line with the constant push-of-war.
Because they are opposing and complementary :
|You can’t have…||Because…|
|Yang + Yang||Clash of the Titans!|
|Yin + Yin||Boring!|
Yin and Yang are basically polarities. Apparently every one of us has ALL the qualities of each other, it’s just a matter of the “range” of each quality. Take the quality of being rigid (Yang?) vs being flexible (Yin?). If there was an absolute scale of 0 – 10, then Alfred could have a range of 2 – 4, Bob could have 3-8, Charlie could have 6 – 9, and so on.
3. Mutually consuming-supporting
This sounds complicated. Consuming-supporting? It’s really simple. Earlier we said Yin and Yang were constantly pushing at each other. However, they also pull from each other, draw from each other and mutually “use up” each other while “benefiting”. An example is a burning candle, with Yang being the flame and Yin being the wax. Another example : a tub of ice cubes (Yin) melting in a room of warm air (Yang). As the ice cubes give up its Yin to the warm air, they become less like ice cubes. As the warm air “nourishes” the ice cubes with its Yang, it becomes less warm.
4. Constantly transforming
We didn’t cover this one yet due to lack of time. Next class!
Some other great gems we covered in yesterday’s class :
Is the body a machine, or is it a garden?
Do you merely replace a part when it is broken? Or do you treat the body as a living organism, a system of subsystems?
The key thing is that the body can heal itself, whereas a machine cannot. A TCM practitioner must remember that most of his work is in facilitating healing. The body will heal itself when given the right conditions. Conversely, disease develops when the wrong conditions are present. This is the key principle behind Gerson Therapy for cancer (google this) which addresses (1) detoxification (to remove whatever’s stopping your body from healing, and (2) nutrition (to provide building blocks and fuel for healing). These 2 principles are also used in TCM (unblocking/moving the blockage, then tonifying/strengthening to reverse the deficiency). It’s that simple. You don’t need to meddle too much. OK let me say it another way. You don’t need to doctor the results.
Back to the garden analogy… actually I prefer the aquarium analogy. There are “planted tanks” kept by hobbyists that are all-natural, and are an entire mini-ecosystem. They don’t use fish medications because there’s no need for it. Good bacteria are encouraged in the water which protect the fishes’ slime coat. The plants help clean the water and provide oxygen. Aquatic invertebrates like shrimp and snails all do their part (some snails eat up fish poop, some shrimp eat hair algae). Even different types of fishes play different roles — some clean the bottom of the tank, others eat algae. Most important is good lighting which simulates the role of the sun and provides energy to the whole system. Now compare this with the “beginner” aquarium — imagine fake plants and goldfish… they’re constantly getting “white spot” and other diseases, and the poor owner is constantly putting in one type of fish medication after another, and having to constantly clean the tank and scrub it for algae. If you were a fish, which tank would you prefer?
Active vs. passive role of patient
Some patients just want you to fix the problem. They don’t take care of their body, are not self-aware, don’t educate themselves on health topics (either unable or unwilling). Other patients are the opposite. There is a bell curve to describe patients :
|Very Poor Condition
Usually on a cocktail of pharma drugs; could be in intensive care; very into the Western medical model.
Just the “usual” complaints.
|Very Good Health
Proactive in health maintenance, self-aware, conscientious.
Case Study : H. Pylori and Peptic Ulcers
In the medical world it was suddenly “discovered” that this bacteria, Helicobacter Pylori, is apparently responsible for peptic ulcers (in a sense this is true if you observe its activities). Conventional treatments include targeting this particular bug with antibiotics. The irony is that the patient actually gets worse. Why?
I read up on this a few years ago. Conventional medicine is actually missing the big picture. The H. Pylori is actually not the root cause but one of the middle links in the chain. You get an overgrowth of this gut bacteria if you don’t have healthy gut bacteria (probiotics, friendly bacteria). This is usually caused by many factors including a diet poor in probiotic foods, consumption of overprocessed foods, and consumption of foods that are toxic to friendly bacteria (alcohol? preservatives?). That’s the thing about gut bacteria — they have their own ecosystem and if the conditions are wrong, then one species will flourish at the expense of others, and it will do its Godzilla-style carnage on the town.
As further proof of this idea — 80% of the population has H. Pylori in their gut anyway, but why don’t they develop peptic ulcers?
Conventional treatment is focused on wiping out this bug with antibiotics, but this is a brute-force approach, like dropping an atomic bomb on the town to kill Godzilla. People die too. When you have zero levels of friendly bacteria in your gut, your immune system is compromised, making you more vulnerable to other viruses/bacteria from the environment, and you also lose the help in digesting your meals, which probiotics provide (among many other benefits they provide).
TCM considers peptic ulcers an excess Yang (heat) condition and treatment includes acupuncture, diet modification (cooling/Yin foods), and stress reduction. What I would add to the mix is probiotic foods (kimchi, yogurt and all that good stuff) as well.
The moral of the story : don’t try to fight the fire directly. Take away the oxygen, the fire dies.