Monthly Archives: May 2013

Rebellious Qi: Rebel With A Cause

Day 6

by Gene Chuah

It’s natural law. To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What goes up must come down. Things that get blocked, don’t stay blocked for very long. If something is pent up, it will explode at some point. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, “Rebellious Qi” is basically any energy flow that breaks out of the established pattern. But we’re not talking about James Dean, being a rebel just for the sake of it. Purposeful rebels are not always a bad thing. Gandhi was one. Mother Theresa in many ways was one too. Even Jesus in his time, was such a rebel that they killed him. And the Rebel Alliance definitely had The Force with them.

But before we can rebel, we need to understand the establishment. All organs and “organ groups” (common pairings or sets in TCM) have established directions of Qi flow. Let’s take a look at the 5 main organs: the Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys, Heart and Liver. Keep in mind that most of the time, Rebellious Qi is disruptive; however the point is that there is always a reason (purpose?) that it came about. Seeing the correct flow of things helps us understand why or how Rebellious Qi might arise. Time to break out the drawing tablet and make some pretty pictures:
 

1. SPLEEN Established Qi direction: Upward
organ_directions_1_spleen

Notes:
Carbs (esp. refined) are bad for weak Spleen.
Weak Spleen: stagnation, bloating.
Healthy Spleen: clear mind, focused (energy goes upward to mind)
Don’t be puzzled, the Stomach is in this diagram but compared to the Spleen, it is somewhat secondary. The Stomach is responsible for initial processing of food, and sends its products to the Spleen for finer processing. The Spleen (again, recall that we really mean “function of the intestines”) has a bigger role overall in TCM.
Notice the Rebellious Qi here in orange.

2. LUNGS Established Qi direction: Downward and Outward
organ_directions_2_lungs

Notes:
Qi of Lungs (from breathing) powers the Kidneys.
Poor air or breathing leads to weak Wei (Defensive) Qi. Symptoms: cold hands, recurring colds, spontaneous cold sweats on slight exertion; “pores too weak to remain closed”. Conversely, with good breathing and air quality, Wei Qi is strong.
The Lungs & Kidneys are correlated in health. One affects the other. In good health, one is able to have full inhalation and exhalation.
Cough is considered “rebellious Qi”. Weak incessant coughing usually due to weak Lungs or poor air quality. In this case Kidneys are unable to “grasp” the Air Qi from Lungs (could be weak Kidneys too). In many cases coughing is purposeful: to unblock the Lungs.
Allergic asthma: main symptom is whistling sound when breathing. This is due to phlegm in the nasal passages.
Allergens in TCM are considered Wind Heat. They burn up fluids of the Lungs (Yin). This makes sense considering saline nasal spray, nose drops or the Neti Pot are effective treatments for most breathing allergies. Saline = salt and Salt = Yin, which counteracts the Yang-burn.

3. KIDNEYS Established Qi direction: Upward and Downward
organ_directions_3_kidneys

Notes:
Lungs deliver “mist”/”vapor”/”moisture” to Kidneys to be harmonized energetically (e.g. more hot or cold).
Kidneys send Water to Lungs if they’re dry, or Fire to strengthen. Kidneys send to the Heart in the same fashion; this is to regulate the energetic temperature of these organs.
In old age, weaker Kidneys affects urination (takes longer to start and stop), particularly for men.

4. HEART Established Qi direction: Downward
organ_directions_4_heart

Notes:
Heart needs to move Qi downward as an outlet. Otherwise if blocked somehow, one symptom is heart palpitations. If this is triggered by only slight exertion, then look to Heart Qi Deficiency as the culprit. Blocked Heart Qi can also result in insomnia. Since the Heart houses the Shen (spirit), too much Heart Heat can cause anxiety (spirit is restless).

5. LIVER Established Qi direction: Outward and Upward
organ_directions_5_liver

Notes:
The Liver is the “Energetic Fan”. No you silly, I’m not talking about a Toronto Maple Leafs spectator. The Liver, although one of the Yin Organs, has a Yang energy to it because it is constantly moving energy, particularly the energy of emotions. The Liver allows you to move on from one emotion to another. Liver Qi stagnation is equated with frustration, irritability and anger. Here’s the interesting thing: in TCM, the 7 emotions each has a corresponding Organ. Too much of one emotion will affect the corresponding Organ. Conversely, dysfunction of an Organ can result in the manifesting of its corresponding emotion. Cause and effect can happen in either direction (see my previous blog post on this phenomenon). This means that you can treat the Organ by lessening the emotion, but it also means that you can treat the emotional issue by treating the Organ.
Back to the Liver: main causes of Liver Qi Stagnation are: stress, inability to express yourself (e.g. under oppression), frustration. Without an outlet, a pent-up explosion of anger will occur. Constant sighing is a sign of Liver frustration (i.e. anger).
For more on the 7 Emotions of TCM, see this snapshot taken from shen-nong.com.

Combined view for Lungs, Heart, Kidneys
organ_directions_6_lungs-heart-kidneys

So far we’ve focused on each Organ and its directions for Qi flow. Above here’s a combined view of the ones that intersect.

Overall Qi as a function of age
lungs_kidneys_age

Overall Qi levels rise and fall over a lifetime. If one’s Kidneys are already weak in childhood, they will also face Kidney-related issues in old age. One of the symptoms is difficulty in inhaling fully. In mid-life, however, things shift and if there is difficulty in exhaling fully, it points to Lung and Spleen issues. Conversely, a sign of good health is when one can inhale and exhale fully.

Pathologies of Qi

1. Deficiency of Qi
Can usually be pinpointed to an Organ.
* Tiredness <-- Spleen, Lung, Kidney Qi Deficiency (the Qi-generating Organs!)
* Tiredness, slow digestion, soft stools <-- Spleen Qi Deficiency
* Shortness of breath, spontaneous cold sweating <-- Lung Qi Deficiency
* Paleness, heart palpitations (on slight exertion) <-- Heart Qi Deficiency

2. Qi Sinking/Collapsing (Extreme Qi Deficiency)
Oh boyoes! In extreme Qi Deficiency, you get a collapse. The house falls because its foundation is gone. Symptoms: prolapse of organs, pathological hemorrhoids, chronic cold diarrhea. In serious cases, expect fainting, unconsciousness, or even coma. Without energy, there can be no spark of life.

3. Qi Stagnation (excess)
To recap from Day One: Excess will cause blockage or stagnation, which leads to pain. Think traffic jam. This can manifest (1) in an energetic channel, causing local pain, or (2) in an Organ, causing pain (e.g. Lung Qi stagnation -> chest constriction) or internal/systemic problems (e.g. Liver Qi stagnation causing frustrated emotions).
Excess/blockage/stagnation can actually be caused by a Deficiency farther up the chain. For example: Spleen Qi Stagnation (maybe due to Weak Spleen) reverses normal upward Qi flow from Spleen, causing bloating/distension.
Sometimes Excess can also be caused by a sudden (external?) disruption, for example stubbing your toe. A Yang reaction happens in response to the sudden Qi blockage/stagnation.

4. Rebellious Qi
Any Qi that flows against, or is different from, the established/regular order/pattern, is considered Rebellious Qi. As mentioned, most of the time it is “out of place” or disruptive, but it can also be beneficial in the sense that sometimes it initiates an “unblocking” or a change that is needed (albeit uncomfortable at first). Sounds like Marin Luther King Jr, no?

Now that we’ve covered enough on Qi, we move on to another Fundamental Body Substance, Blood.

 
Blood Basics
From sacredlotus.com:
* Blood is denser form of Qi (more Yin).
* Blood is inseparable from Qi.
* Qi moves (pushes) Blood; Blood is the mother of Qi.
* Qi gives life and movement to Blood, but Blood nourishes the Organs that produce Qi.

When we speak of Blood in TCM we can mean the physical kind that flows in blood vessels, as well as the energetic kind that flows in Qi channels. Blood and Qi are interdependent; one needs to be strong for the other to be strong, and vice versa.

Pathologies of Blood/Qi:
* Qi weak, Blood strong –> heart attack (Qi can’t push Blood)
* Qi stagnant –> Blood Stagnation/Stasis
* Qi+Blood Deficiency (usually go together)
* Blood Deficiency –> dizziness, lack of mental focus, premature greying/baldness
* Blood Deficiency <-- shallow breathing <-- Lung dysfunction

Creation of Blood
blood_synthesis

This looks very similar to our Qi Synthesis Flowchart from Day 5, but one key difference is the role of the Heart. The Heart makes the Blood circulate in its vessels, but we knew that already. What we didn’t know was that in TCM, the Heart is the Emperor who gives the Blood its red color by stamping it with his official seal using red ink. He approves mightily.
Pathologies of the Heart:
* coldness <-- Heart Qi/Yang Deficiency
* low energy <-- Heart Qi Deficiency
* poor appetite <-- Heart Qi Deficiency
* pale complexion <-- Heart & Blood Qi Deficiency

The Spleen is the main Orgain in Blood production (see flowchart). The Spleen is also the “governor” for Ying (Nutritive) Qi (contrasting with Lungs which govern Wei (Defensive) Qi). Yin Qi is considered part of the Blood. Blood, as well as Ying Qi, are important for the nourishment of internal organs. Too much mental stress weakens the Spleen, which causes a vicous cycle (see Day 5). Adding stress as a factor here goes something like this :

Stress -> Spleen damage -> weak Spleen -> crave & eat Sweet foods -> more Speen damage -> tiredness, brain fog, inability to cope -> more stress -> repeat cycle.

Quick recap of the circadian rhythm, or “Chinese clock” in TCM: the Liver stores Blood at night, e.g. it is active and processing at 1-3am. The Liver is responsible for the quality and quantity of Blood. There is an excellent interactive “Organ clock” here, with (static) screenshot here.

Functions of Blood

1. Nourishes the body
Blood circulates, transports substances and nourishment to organs, skin, muscles, tendons, sinews, ligaments, orifices, etc.
Pathologies:
* Dizziness <-- lack of nourishment of Shen from the Blood
* Poor eyesight, floaters, night blindness <-- weak Blood (/Liver)
* Numbness of limbs <-- Blood Deficiency, or Blood not flowing in its channel; contrast this with Western (mis-diagnosis) of nerve dysfunction
* Numbness/tingling due to sleeping without turning <-- Blood Stagnation <-- Qi Deficiency

2. Moistens body tissues
Soft, supple skin and hair for instance. As one ages, their overall Qi as well as Blood health declines, and body tissues are not as moist; as we age, we tend to “dry up”. Menopause is actually a form of Yin Deficiency, exhibiting symptoms like vaginal dryness. Excess Heat can also be to blame. Dry sinews tear easier (prone to sports injuries, for instance). Another symptom of weak Blood is dry eyes (feels like sand).

3. Mental activity
When Blood is strong in terms of quality and quantity, one is mentally calm, happy, and able to focus (Shen is balanced). Blood “grounds” the Shen (spirit), housed in the Heart. Pathologies include anxiety, insomnia, sadness, disturbed dreams. Remember that the Spleen (intestines) is crucial in Blood creation? The new science shows that there is gut-brain connection. Studies performed by Dr. Wakefield and duplicated by others, prove this. Google this topic here, they tried to shut this whistleblower down so it’s worth exploring both sides (be careful, one side is motivated by money, not truth).

Disharmonies of the Blood

1. Deficiency due to poor diet, trauma/shock causing loss of blood, or Organ dysfunction (e.g. Spleen, or Lungs).

2. Heat in the Blood. Symptoms: fever, excessive sweating, red complexion, insomnia, disturbed dreams/hallucinations, mental restlessness/illness (bipolar, manic-depressive), skin conditions (ulcers, carbuncles, furuncles), meningitis->psoriasis, cold sores (this one is a misnomer, should really be heat sores). Chemotherapy and radiotherapy cause excessive Heat in the Blood (very damaging). Other causes: too much coffee, red meat, spicy foods, alcohol, even toxic emotions. We could say that Blood Excess Heat = Toxin Overload (physical or emotional). Also, lack of sleep or sleeping out-of-cycle long-term will cause Heat in the Blood.

3. Blood Stasis: it’s not moving! Symptoms: usually sharp, strong/stabbing pain. If the case of Heart Blood Stasis, heart attack is the result, or angina pectoris (chest pain <-- obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries). In the brain, Blood Stasis could be caused by blood clotting <-- brain aneurysm. This is very dangerous because the brain in TCM is considered one of the Jing-carrying substances as well.
Etiology (causation): excess Cold. Here is how this typically progresses: extremities get cold first --> pain –> numb (no Blood flowing) –> Cold has “conquered” –> turn blue or bluish-purple –> lose a limb, oh noes !!

Now on to our next Wonder Substance, or as the proper folk like to say, Fundamental Substance… the oft-mentioned but never-fully-explained Shen, or spirit.

 
Shen (spirit)

I actually know someone Chinese with this name. The actual word in Pinyin is Shén and the vowel sounds more like the one in “stern” than in “men”. Hear it at Google Translate and to see the Chinese character. Yes folks, it’s true, we each are a trinity of Mind, Body and Spirit, a fact recognized in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The Shen also represents vitality, consciousness and mental health. In TCM it resides in the Heart, is housed (grounded, nourished) by the Blood. Shen is responsible for wisdom, creativity, emotional intelligence, insight, intuition, sixth sense, and awareness of ourselves as distinct from the environment. The Shen enables one to be aware of (and choose to follow) social norms. This reminds me of a concept I studied in Psychology, self-monitoring.

If the Shen is disturbed in a person (e.g. due to trauma), it will not be grounded, and in extreme cases can be dispersed or even temporarily displaced. The results vary: restlessness, anxiety, mindlessness, confusion, even terror or insanity.

Shen enters the body upon conception, and leaves during death. It is eternal, being Spirit; it is the part of us that never dies (law of conservation of energy: energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but can be transferred) and many belief systems subscribe to the idea of reincarnation. Whatever you believe, the concept of Shen is essential in TCM because it explains and helps predict many things. Shen is considered pure (Yang) energy and because it is so pure, is easily disturbed.

Now for the fun (but possibly scary) part… we learned how true the adage “the eyes are the window of the soul” is, with the concept of “sanpaku” (Japanese word, meaning “3 whites of the eyes”). It’s a big topic but I’ll let you research it yourself here in words or in pictures (each worth a thousand words). Now wait a minute, why is the eye on the US dollar bill a sanpaku eye?

 
Some Other Items We Discussed In Yesterday’s Class

* The Brain is known as the “Sea of Marrow” and contains Jing like the Kidneys and spinal cord.
* Diabetes in TCM is not classified as a Blood dysfunction, but overall Yin Deficiency.
* Too much sleep is unhealthy because it creates Yin Excess –> Dampness. As compared to too little sleep which has the opposite effect, burning of Yin (mentioned in Day 4).

 

Put on your Defensive Qi, it’s cold out!

Day 5

by Gene Chuah

“Put on the full armor of Wei Qi so that you can take your stand against Evil Qi’s schemes.”

What is this miraculous Jing essence we talked about in last week’s class? Jing is actually just one of the several types of Qi (synonyms: Ki, Chi, Prana, universal energy, The Force) coursing through our bodies. In the latest class yesterday, we went into further detail on the other types of Qi in the human body, and the flowchart, or map, of its creation and end products (defensive and nutritive Qi).

First, continuing on Jing. This Pre-Natal Essence, whose level is determined at birth, is stored in the Kidneys, and is responsible for: body growth, reproduction, development (vital in growth of genitalia, bones, teeth, hair) and constitutional strength especially at birth. The quality and quantity of Jing that you have also determines your lifespan and strength of your immune system. Insufficient Jing can cause issues like absent or underdeveloped genitalia.

Your Jing level (quantity, quality) is influenced during conception and pregnancy, by 3 types of factors : (1) Chronic (e.g. smoker parent(s)), (2) Acute (e.g. emotional shock during pregnancy), and (3) Environmental (e.g. time of day, season, astrology at birth).

Jing actually has 2 subtypes. Now here’s where the naming gets a bit tricky, but it’s really simple if you use my made-up names. See table below :

Correct names Jing (Pre-Natal Essence) Yuan Qi (Original, Primary Qi)
Gene’s made-up names Yin Jing Yang Jing
How they’re different More “Yin” than its twin; moves slower. More “Yang” than its twin, moves faster; helps move Jing and circulate it through the channels; think of it as the transporter (it’s still Jing though).
How they’re similar Both are actually Pre-Natal Essence (just different polarities) — stored in Kidneys, endowed at birth, with finite quality/quantity determined at conception/pregnancy; responsible for growth, reproduction, development, health maintenance etc.; direct correlation with immune strength and lifespan; consumed at a low “baseline” rate unless facing physical overexertion; is needed for life to continue. Also consumed via: pregnancy, lactation, and ejaculation.

Now on to our most exciting Qi Synthesis Flowchart :
Qi Synthesis Flowchart

Pretty self-explanatory isn’t it? A picture is worth a thousand words… (granted, this is a picture with words in it). This diagram is actually an amalgamation from what I learned in yesterday’s class plus other TCM material I gathered from around the Web.

A word on True Qi (Zhen Qi). Related concepts: Good Qi, Correct Qi, Upright Qi, Righteous Qi, and Central Qi (see this snapshot discussion). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a continuous war between Good and Evil that happens in all our bodies. Evil Qi is usually equated with the external elements, and you need a surplus of Good Qi (True Qi) in order to overcome Evil Qi (continually invading from the outside) in order to maintain good health. So, a cold draft at night is definitely one of Evil Qi’s henchmen, better make sure you defend against it. Defend with what? Thankfully your True Qi has 2 components : Defensive Qi (Wei Qi), and Nutritive Qi (Ying Qi). You could think of one as the Ministry of Defense and the other as the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Defensive (Wei) Qi is your knight in shining armor, ready to defend your body against the orcish hordes. Defensive Qi is more Yang compare to Nutritive Qi, which is Yin in contrast. Think of Nutritive Qi as the citizens of the kingdom, peacefully going about their lives, building, trading, cooking, cleaning and pursuing the arts. They wouldn’t know a thing or two about warfare… and in fact they are more dormant during the daytime (the Yang half of the day), during which Defensive Qi is more active. At night when you go to sleep, the balance shifts from Defensive to Nutritive Qi so your body can heal itself and do all sorts of nifty things like regenerating your cells. Which is why it is important to make sure you are protected from the elements when you go to sleep at night — because your army is asleep and you are more vulnerable to attack. That open window bringing in a draft will make you catch a cold much easier, even if you’re too slow to catch a cold.

Take note that in fact, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this “kingdom” allegory of the human body is actually used, and was documented in the Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) as follows :
Nei Jing Kingdom Allegory

Also, an important note here regarding the Organs. You’ll notice that I used the uppercase O for Organs. From this article on, I’ll be adopting this naming scheme where TCM organs will have the uppercase (e.g. Spleen, Stomach, Kidneys). This is to differentiate them from the *real* physiological organ documented in modern medicine (non-TCM). The reason there is this is distinction, is because very often in TCM the Organ doesn’t not correlate 1-for-1 with the actual organ in function and even physical appearance and location. For instance, we know that in modern medical terms, the spleen’s main function is to filter the blood and participate in the immune system. However in TCM, the Spleen performs the function of the intestines. This a very important concept to grasp when studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. The key thing is that we are using models that describe the processes and subsystems of the body, and these models are indeed very accurate in describing how the body works, and how to correct health imbalances as a practitioner. TCM is not concerned about the minute details of physiology — who cares what atoms make up the molecules that make up the proteins that make up the hormones that send messages to notify some transglobuleraseic lammunotamic fluid about its zygonomitrous underundulamations? It’s too easy to fall into this trap of empirical reductionism and not see the forest for the trees. Sometimes less is more.

Now back to Evil Qi’s plotting and his plans for world domination. Defensive (Wei) Qi works hard to keep you protected from him, and when the battle heats up, your body literally heats up too. This is because Wei Qi is Yang (warm, energetic) in nature, and in order to win, more Wei Qi is allocated by the body to the battlefield (at the expense of Nutritive (Ying) Qi). Defensive Qi works mostly around the skin and muscles, and includes responses like vasodilation, vasoconstriction, shivering, and fevers, whereas Nutritive Qi works mostly in the body’s interior, particularly the Organs. Yes, fever is a classic example of a fierce, hot Yang battle going on, and in fact, the stronger one’s immune system, the more intense the battle (higher fever, worse symptoms) — but it is all over quickly, as opposed to a long-drawn-out illness. Sweating during a fever is seen in TCM as the body’s way of expelling the pathogen; the pores let the “evil” out.

Incidentally… lately in the world of modern medicine there has been a renaissance of “letting fevers run their course” instead of bringing them down immediately. This is a good thing, and rightly so — there has been some deeply entrenched scaremongering about fevers causing brain damage, but the incidence of this extremely low, and only happens when the hypothalamus is malfunctioning (extremely rare) (e.g. due to infection), causing a runaway fever. Having a good fever and “sweating it out” will often cure a patient, whereas patients on fever-lowering medications (very common OTC drugs) take much longer to get better. Take a look at these pro-fever articles.

If Evil Qi should get past the Wei Qi defense though, it can “hide” in the body and continue to cause problems (an infection in modern terms). In serious cases, this pathogenic “evil heat” permeates Ying (Nutritive) Qi — yes, it becomes part of the body Qi (e.g. hepatitis, HIV).

It is important to “make hay while the sun shines” when it comes to cultivating Defensive (Wei) Qi. It is best cultivated Daytime vs. Nighttime, and Summer vs. Winter. This makes sense as during the Day we are awake an able to proactively take care of our health (good food, exercise, etc.). Also, during the Summer months, it is easier to grow fresh food and get plenty of sunshine — to build up your Qi reserves before grumpy Old Man Winter comes around again. Be careful, he’s a good friend of Dr. Evil Qi!


Other cool things we learned in yesterday’s class (in no particular order, and I may jump around) :

The Kidneys are a source of both Fire and Water. The Ming Men, located between the Kidneys, is the “gate of vitality” or “gate of fire”. Together with the Kidneys, both Jing (Water) and Yuan Qi (Fire) are distributed to the body in the needed proportion.

An Acupuncture point, “Du 4″, corresponds to the Ming Men. It is located on the back, on the latitude 3 finger-widths below the belly button. Together with some other Acu points on the same latitude, they are great treatment points for Kidney Yang Deficiency. Use moxa (moxibustion) for these points. Especially useful for treating low fertility. The uterus tends to be cold; fertility issues in general are due to lack of heat (both physical heat and TCM Yang). You need warmth to incubate new life; moxa and herbs have been very successful in treating infertility especially in China where there is widespread acceptance and practice.

Each of the 12 main Acupuncture channels has a Yuan Source Point, through which Jing can be brought in. Typically this is used when an Organ needs it; the channel that feeds the Organ is selected for needling on the source point. Think of these Yuan Source Points as faucets and the Meng Men as a pump.

Shen, or spirit, resides in the Heart. Emotional or physical trauma can “unseat” the Shen and cause a person to be in a disoriented/wandering state (he hasn’t been himself ever since…). In extreme traumatic situations (shock), Jing can be lost from the Kidneys as if they were wrung out, and Shen can be “dispersed” — in some cases this is a permanent loss. This helps explain comas, and cases where someone’s head hair turns grey in a very short span of time.

The placenta contains a lot of Jing. Animals in nature eat it after giving birth, to regain lost Jing. Some human mothers are doing this as well (Google: Placentophagy).

There is also a growing awareness in the medical field that after birth, the umbilical cord must not be cut until at least 2 minutes has passed. See these articles. There is still blood and stem cells being pumped through the umbilical cord after birth (and in fact some proponents vouch for not cutting it at all, and letting it fall off naturally). The benefits extend beyond the early neo-natal period and babies delivered this way are healthier (more stem cells and immunoglobulin through the blood, stronger immunity). Here is a photo that was making its rounds on Facebook, showing how the umbilical cord changes over time as it “loses” blood to the baby (if not cut too early):
umbilical cord changes color over time There is research to back this up — see this study, “Mankind’s first natural stem cell transplant“.

One interesting revelation: stem cells contain Jing. There is a connection between placental stem cells and anti-aging. Remember that Jing correlates to lifespan, and that it is endowed at birth? Both the placenta and umbilical cord are also rich sources of stem cells, and it looks like this precious resource of Pre-Natal Essence has led to all sorts of commoditization around it. See also : placenta cord banking. Is it worth more to the mother eating it or selling it? How much is a year of your lifespan worth?

The quality of Gu Qi (Food Qi) is dependent on the suitability of the food or drink to the individual, as well as the healthy functioning of their Spleen.

Spleen Yang is needed to “burn” food. With Spleen Qi Deficiency, the stool will be soft/runny (diarrhea), and the patient will be tired. My analogy is “incomplete combustion” — a cold engine will produce a stronger smell of “wet” gasoline due to not enough “burn”.

Sweet-tasting foods feed Spleen Yang. However, too much Sweetness and/or the wrong kind (refined sugars) will wreck the system and cause a vicious cycle by weakening the Spleen, which in turn results in excess Damp (obesity, tiredness, brain fog). A weak Spleen will cause one to crave Sweet foods, perpetuating the vicious cycle. In TCM, rice is a “good” kind of Sweet food, supplying good Spleen Yang. In TCM, Sweetness corresponds to carbohydrates — it may not have to be actually sweet-tasting to be classified as Sweet (hence the classification of rice). It’s no surprise that rice is a staple in traditional diets, particularly Asian diets. The body prefers a certain regularity when it comes to diet. Traditional Asian diets are quite constant — rice along with side dishes, usually prepared the same way (some variations like steaming, boiling, stir-frying, but mostly a “wet” style as opposed to baking, roasting, frying). The ingredients may vary, but it’s not as big of a swing as, say pizza one day, pasta another, then steak on yet another day.

The Guardian of Wei Qi is the Lungs; the Guardian of Ying Qi is the Spleen.

Signs of low Wei Qi : cold limbs, weakness, low energy, susceptible to colds/flus. Signs of sufficient Wei Qi : redness, sweatiness.

Not all Evil Qi is external; some can originate from within. For instance, excessive anger or worry can manifest as disease (psychosomatic causes).

Eat Yang foods for breakfast to boost Defensive (Wei) Qi (a Yang energy). Conversely, eat Yin foods before bed to boost Nutritive (Ying) Qi (a Yin energy).

4 Functions of Qi :
1. Transforming (think of electricity powering a microphone)
2. Transporting/Moving (physical+mental : voluntary+involuntary actions)
3. Holding (you’ll be surprised what starts falling out when Qi levels are lower, e.g. in old age)
4. Protecting (via Defensive Qi, as discussed above)
5. Warming

When the Heart (where the Shen or Spirit resides) is at peace, one is able to speak their mind clearly. The flip side is stuttering, incoherence or even mental illness. Also, too much pathogenic heat at the Heart can disrupt the Shen and cause mental illness.

The San Jiao or Triple Warmer is an Organ that regulates heat by moving warmth between 3 main vertical regions :
A. Chest, Lungs, Heart (more Yang)
B. Spleen, Stomach, Liver
C. Kidneys, Bladder, Intestines, Uterus (more Yin)

The Heart benefits from Zong Qi (Gathering Qi). With good Zong Qi (see Qi Synthesis Flowchart above), the heart beats stronger, more rhythmically. Correlated with cardio strength, and can be cultivated. A marathon runner is able to extract Zong Qi more efficiently than an armchair dweller.

The Spleen is directly related to our capacity for thinking and concentration. See this excellent snapshot page from tcmstudent.com for the Functions of the Spleen.

 

Why Burning The Midnight Oil Leads To Early Death, and Why Women Age Faster Than Men

Day 4

by Gene Chuah

God is fair, and everything is a trade-off.

“Men, save your seed!” That was one of the many valuable lessons we learned from yesterday’s class. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, you are endowed with a fixed amount of “life force” at birth. At the moment, there is no known technique for adding to this “savings account” — it was created for you during conception by your parents’ contributions using a portion each of their own life-force, and also determined while you were in the womb (your mom chipped in big-time). Called Pre-Natal Essence, or Jing, this vital energy determines your lifespan, because it is always being used up — in the best case of good health, only at a trickle’s pace, but in the worst case (always burning the midnight oil, daily stress, overexertion, poor diet, lack of exercise, toxin burden, excessive grief etc.), you will be “burning Jing” as a much higher rate and this, to put it simply, “will be the death of you” (so that’s how the saying came about).

A quick recap of my Day 3 entry — I had mentioned “burning Yin“, where Yin is the nurturing/soothing force that helps balance the aggressive, active fire of Yang — however in modern society we are burning up Yin much too fast. Pre-Natal Jing Essence is one of the Yin factors that gets burned up in the fires of excessive Yang. Thankfully there is non-Jing energy that we can use to keep this fire in check. It’s called Post-Natal Qi (which in turn contains Yin and Yang polarities, Yin being useful here), which you can acquire daily from food, drink, and the air. Think of this as your “checking account”. A quick step into the world of Pranic Healing reveals to us that there are actually 4 sources of Qi (also known as Prana) : (1) Solar (2) Air (3) Earth, and (4) Tree Prana. If you are honoring your body and in harmony with the laws of nature (living healthy in all aspects), then this Post-Natal life-force is like a daily paycheck that will keep you out of debt and keep you from dipping into your precious Jing savings account. Other types of non-Jing Yin substances are Blood (TCM concept), body fluids, and Yin forces that reside in the organs. Yang fire burns any type of Yin though, so you’d better have plenty of Yin to spare and to shield precious Jing with.

Why is it so important not only to get enough sleep, but to also (ideally) sleep when it gets dark, and rise at dawn, like our ancestors did? If we look at the earth’s day and night cycle, it looks something like this :
yinyang_daynight
Ebb and flow. During the Day, Yang is the predominant force. This is quite evident — daytime is hotter, has more activity (even if you choose to sleep, the birds and bees will be abuzz), and has a high energy level compared to Night which is cooler, quieter, and low-energy, even dormant. Day and Night need each other; if the Earth stopped spinning, one side of the planet would get fried while the other would be frozen.

Now here’s the poetic (but true) part. Since we are a microcosm within the macrocosm of the Earth, this cycle also applies to us, and it needs to coincide with the larger day/night cycle of the Earth. After all, we are Yin relative to our planet, so it makes sense that we should submit to its laws. If you’re not taking the time to “throttle down” and relax at the end of the day, and if you live a Yang-excess lifestyle (too much noise/activity, not enough quiet/rest), then you will be “burning up Yin” in an attempt to maintain balance. When Yin is weak or insufficient, your Yang energy will not be kept in check and will “flare up” when you’re trying to sleep, causing tossing & turning, insomnia, or even nightmares :
yinyang_daynight_nightmares
This is not too bad until you keep pushing it and eventually run out of spendable, Post-Natal Yin-Qi and start burning up Pre-Natal Jing Essence. So remember to take it easy (a parting wish common to Western society but unheard of in traditional Asian culture). There’s also a phrase in Chinese that my father used to quote to me, translated thus: “early to sleep, early to rise, the body is healthy”. Easier said than done, I know… it boils down to whether or not you want premature death. :-)

Coincidentally, honoring the day/night cycle is also known to the Western mind via the Circadian Rhythm which says that 10pm to 6am is actually the ideal time-block for sleep.

Now on to our next exciting topic. Why does it seem that women mature faster (think teens) than men, and why does it appear that women age faster too? You know the thing about younger women and older men. And people do say “men seem to age better”. Surprise surprise, according to TCM, women run on 7-year cycles while men run on 8-year cycles. Now — if not for offsetting factors — one of them that men lose Jing through ejaculation — men are supposed to outlive women.

Hmm… I had always suspected that women are “overclocked” compared men, so this now makes sense. Given the same energy, a higher-frequency wave (women) travels less far than a lower-frequency one (men) :

menwomen_diff_cycles

Of course, again, we know that this is not the only factor because women end up living longer than men. But this picture shows us, for example, that a woman has reached her 5th milestone at age 35, while a man reaches it at age 40, given the same expenditure of energy. God is fair. In many ways, women run circles around men, and we all know it. Here is the list of gender trade-offs that we touched on in class :

Men Women
Age slower, but have shorter lives Age faster, but have longer lives
Free from having to give birth Give birth, using up Pre-Natal Essence (Jing)
Orgasms use up Jing Orgasms are “free”
“Age better” Develop faster

But 7/8-year cycles of what? Every cycle, each person gets an “infusion” of Jing (from the Kidneys, where Jing is stored). Think of it as a big withdrawal from your savings account every 7 or 8 years. You use this “money” differently depending on your age. In your younger years, you’ll be using it for growth (the second cycle is puberty), but in later years, the withdrawals are smaller, and you’re using it mostly as fuel to maintain your body. I didn’t get a clear answer on this in class, but I imagine it to be more of a “smoothened sawtooth” wave rather than a pure sine wave, diminishing over time (note to self: needs further research).

I can imagine that all this may not come as good news to both men and women reading this, but “it is what it is”. For the men : some of you may remember this Internet meme. I guess it’s not too far off from the truth in the sense that this is not a “free” transaction. Now before you come at me with the pitchforks, also know that in TCM there is a “recommended schedule” (to be covered in a later class) for men so that you don’t burn up your Jing too fast, which means, abstinence isn’t the rule (in case you were concerned).

Also, some people are endowed with more Jing from the get-go (in terms of quantity as well as quality) (millionares, we call them), explaining how some women can have 20 kids and still be more than fine. Not all is lost, however; even if you started out with a small Jing bank account, you can still do a lot and go far by generating and living off good Post-Natal Qi with a healthy lifestyle, according to our instructor. Related idea : parable of the “talents”.

Here’s what’s written in the Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) (I plucked this off somewhere; needs verification) :

Female Jing Cycles of Seven

A woman’s Kidney energy becomes prosperous at seven years of age (1×7).
Her menstruation appears as the ren (sea of yin) channel flows and the chong (sea of blood) channel becomes prosperous at the age of 14 (2×7).
Her Kidney qi reaches a balanced state, and her teeth are completely developed at the age of 21 (3×7).
Her vital energy and blood are substantial, her four limbs are strong and the body is at optimal condition at the age of 28 (4×7).
Her peak condition declines gradually. The yang ming channel is depleted, her face withers and her hair begins to fall out at the age of 35 (5×7).
Her three yang channels, tai yang, yang ming and shao yang, begin to decline. Her face complexion wanes and her hair turns white at the age of 42 (6×7).
The ren and chong channels are both declining, her menstruation ends, her physique turns old and feeble, and she can no longer conceive at the age of 49 (7×7).

Male Jing Cycles of Eight

A man’s Kidney energy is prosperous, his hair develops and his teeth emerge at the age of eight (1x 8).
His Kidney energy grows and is filled with vital energy, and he is able to let his sperm out at the age of 16 (2×8).
His Kidney energy is developed, his extremities are strong, and all of his teeth are developed by the age of 24 (3×8).
His body has developed to its best condition, and his extremities and muscles are very strong at the age of 32 (4×8).
His Kidney energy begins to decline, his hair falls out and his teeth begin to whither at the age of 40 (5×8).
His Kidney energy declines more, the yang energy of the entire body declines, his complexion becomes withered and his hair turns white at the age of 48 (6×8).
His Liver energy declines as a result of Kidney deficiency; the tendons become rigid and fail to be nimble at the age of 56 (7×8).
His essence and vital energy is weak, as are his bones and tendons. His teeth fall out and his body becomes decrepit at the age of 64 (8×8).

 

More nuggets we picked up in yesterday’s class :

Menopause is classified as a Yin deficiency.

In order of Yang to Yin, it’s : vodka, red wine, white wine, then beer. Beer has both Yang and Yin components. Too much beer causes a beer belly due to excess Damp.

Yang-excess and Yin-deficiency are similar, in that Yang overpowers Yin. However, in Yang excess, Yin is near the normal absolute; in Yin deficiency, Yang is near the normal absolute. Both conditions are similar but because Yang-excess is higher-energy, the symptoms, although similar, are greater in magnitude. Some differences though : Yang-exc gulping vs. Yin-def sipping (thirst), Yang-exc heat symptoms throughout the day, but Yin-def mostly in evening and night. For both conditions: rapid hunger, thirst, constipation, sweating, irritability, scanty/dark urine, preference for coolness. Hmm, this gets me thinking… in Western society we say someone is “cool” — maybe because they are really full of Yang fire (a positive trait in Western society) but are also balanced with “coolness” (a calm demeanour?) — the magnitude of their Yin reflecting on the magnitude of their Yang?

The flip side of the coin are the “cold” conditions : Yang Deficiency and Yin Excess. Similar symmetry relative to each other; general symptoms are : feeling cold, low energy, needing to sleep longer, poor circulation, poor digestion, anemia, paleness, soft stools or diarrhea, no thirst, abundant urine, preference for warmth. Yin Excess is more rare but symptoms are more serious and usually involve pain (Qi blockage).

Kidney beans are good for the kidneys. For both kidney Yang, Yin, and Jing. The “doctrine of signatures” seems to apply here.

Continuing from last week, the 4th principle of Yin and Yang is its constant transformation. For example, in the food chain, grass is Yin, eaten by a deer, which is Yang relative to it. The deer is Yin to a lion, which is more Yang. When the lion eats the deer, it is satiated and becomes more Yin, feeling relaxed (also 3rd principle of mutual consuming-supporting). But when the lion dies, it becomes Yin, providing nourishment to Yang decomposing bacteria (its Yang energy also gets released to Heaven, or back to Source). So as we can see, Yin and Yang are constantly being transformed, its balance continually shifting within any one “actor”. This principle also applies to one’s actvities during their daily cycle — which ties into the importance of “winding down” the day as mentioned earlier (shifting gears, not Yang all the time).

Best time to exercise is around 5pm when Kidney Qi is strongest. Kidney supports physical strength. This is similar to the Base Chakra’s function in Pranic Healing. I’ve also read about the 5pm peak from other articles on circadian rhythm.

Qi energy in TCM organs follows a specific direction — each organ has a prescribed direction. For the Stomach, it is downward. During an imbalance, if it flows upward, it is considered “rebellious” and nausea is a symptom.

Different foods are cooling (Yin), warming (Yang) or neutral. An imbalance in your diet will cause you to become closer to one pole, which will also affect your behavior (e.g. aggressive, high-energy vs. calm, low-energy). Cultural diets in most cases support (cause?) cultural expectations of behavior. However sometimes you’ll have people whose inborn traits make them a misfit in their society (anti-war vegan at a UFC barbecue or punk rocker born to Zen priests?). Well whaddaya know… meat is Yang, and vegetables are Yin. Which culture eats more of each?

Jing energy is vital for health in old age — think of it as your pension fund. Jing-poverty in old age means weakened teeth and bones. The kidneys store Jing so any kidney impairment will also affect Jing supply.

Jing is considered a Yin energy. If you think of a seed, it is dormant (yet has great potential). It is small. It belongs to the earth. All Yin qualities. It should also make sense that semen is Yin (in fact it is), as it also is a type of seed, and it carries Jing essence. Semen is also carried in an external pouch designed with the main purpose of “cold storage” — and Cold == Yin. Also, tying back in to the Pranic Healing world, the lower chakras (Base, Sex chakras) are considered “lower” energetically and are of lower vibration/frequency. Being “lower” is also a Yin quality.

What a great class !!

 

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