Tag: Chinese Medicine UK

The “Yellow Emperor” meditation

Not long ago I posted my two pence piece regarding the novel Coronavirus. In that article I was posting a visualisation exercise prescribed in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, the most fundamental book for the traditional Chinese medicine, which contains a series of recommendations for practitioners in order to maintain good health, especially in times of epidemics. One of them is a visualisation technique for physical strength and protection, before the health workers enter the hospital to assist the diseased.

This is the text that inspired my meditation:

“This worker should practice visualising a strong Liver with green energy emanating from it to the East and producing vibrant vegetation; a white energy emanating from robust Lungs to the West turning into metal armour and weapons; a red energy emanating from an active Heart to the South creating radiant light; a deep blue energy emanating from solid Kidneys to the North forming a formidable sea; and a yellow energy emanating from a sturdy Spleen in the Middle manifesting the substantial Earth. […]”

Please note that this is my own interpretation of the text. If you plan on doing this meditation standing, you can turn to face those specific cardinal points. If you sit or lie down, just imagine yourself facing the cardinal points.

Here is the transcript of the meditation

I want you to find a comfortable position. Whether you choose to stand, sit or lie down, please make sure your spine is straight and you can relax.

Begin by focusing on your breathing. Do not try to change anything about how you breathe, just acknowledge the fact that you are breathing and become aware of the act of breathing. Just breathe normally, in and out.  Let your thoughts come and go, just acknowledge their presence and let them be, do not try to push them away, just let them float around in your mind, like clouds in the sky.

During this meditation, if thoughts try to disturb your focus, just go back to the breathing and allow your thoughts to come and go, just breathe and listen to my voice.

You will now begin your journey inside your body. Your body is strong and healthy, and this meditation will help it stay strong and healthy.

Now I want you to focus your attention on your Liver, on the right hand side of your body, just below the ribs. With your Liver in mind, imagine the sun rising and shining the light over a beautiful, green forest, in spring. This forest is full of vibrant, green vegetation: majestic trees with thick, strong branches and beautiful leaves, graceful young trees with slender, flexible bodies, and beautiful, green blades of grass. All this lush forest grows patiently from the green light of your Liver.

Return to your breathing for a few moments, taking in all that green, fresh beauty of the forest at dawn.

Now I want you to shift your attention to your lungs, in your chest. As you focus your attention to your Lungs, visualise the most beautiful sunset ever, with red and yellow clouds and blue sky. As you are admiring this gorgeous view, picture yourself protected by the shiniest, silver armour you have ever seen. You can design this armour as you wish, as a thin silver layer covering your skin, or as a big, medieval-like armour, with a shield and a sword to match. This armour can protect and shield you against anything.

Mind your breathing for a few moments, feeling that silver armour covering and protecting your body.

Next I want you to focus your attention on your Heart. Place your fingers in the middle of your breastbone and let it rest there gently. Now picture yourself in the middle of the summer, the Sun is shining right up in the sky from the South. There’s red fruits and berries everywhere. Your Heart radiates the purest red light, filled with love. There’s laughter and joy everywhere. Your Heart is content.

Return to your breathing for a few moments, allowing that feeling of pure, red love fill your Heart.

Now I want you to move your awareness to your Kidneys, in your lower back. It is the middle of the night, the sky above is full of stars, you are by the sea, and you are dipping your feet in this blue, clear sea. Feel the water touching your feet. Know that this formidable sea is coming from the North. It is You in Essence form. Everything that you are, your DNA, the wisdom from your parents passed on to your children is in this sea of yours.

Return to your breathing for a few moment, breathing in the salty sea air and feeling the blue sea water gently touching your feet.

Now I want you to move your awareness to your spleen, in the stomach area. Imagine the strongest, most majestic mountain, covered in gold. This mountain is your centre, you are grounded and firm. Feel the grounding and the strength of this mountain in your own body. Feel the golden light radiating from the centre of your body.

Return to your breathing and take in the majesty and the strength of this golden mountain.

As you keep breathing in and out, I want you to visualise the whole picture, your entire universe, with the strong, beautiful golden mountain in the centre, covered by luxurious green vegetation, with the deep blue sea washing yellow shores of sand at the base of the mountain, with you standing tall and protected in your silvery shiny armour, feeling the love of the universe filling your heart. You are loved, you are safe, you are nurtured, you are healthy.

Before you conclude this meditation, give thanks to yourself for taking time to do this, and know that this meditation is an act of love and healing.

And here is the recording

Coronavirus, my two pence piece

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have already made acquaintance with this intriguing little coronavirus which seems to be causing a lot of havoc around the world.

Apart from an unusual appetite for toilet paper, from what information is out there, it seems to behave like a proper coronavirus, that is a respiratory viral infection, much like the seasonal colds and flus. What seems to be different is the speed with which it seems to be infecting a large number of people. This is why the doctors in China had so little time to isolate it and at the same time warn everyone.

This one turned out to be out of the norms and with too many cases all at once.

I am not going to bury myself into conspiracy theories, political discussions, fake news and other false food for thought about this virus.

What I am going to do instead is offer my two pence piece on the matter based on my training in the healing arts of the Chinese medicine and maybe offer some useful advice based on it.

If you read my other two pence piece about the season of spring (you can read it here), you already know that one of the natural elements that can become out of balance easily in spring is Wind. And Wind means a lot of things in connection to our inner universe, including respiratory and viral infections. Go figure! Viral infections are to be expected during the spring season [yes, I’m being a bit sarcastic]

According to the principles of Chinese medicine and the Five Elements, an imbalance in one of the Elements will affect the next but one in line. That is because the controlling cycle of the Elements over one another. So, this means that any viral infections or allergies in Spring actually stem from Autumn. This is why I keep telling my clients with allergies to start consuming local honey in autumn and boost their immune system if they want to keep their allergies in check in Spring. If you start taking care of your problem when you already got the sniffles, it’s like forging weapons when the war is already at your door. It’s too late.

So this battle with the new coronavirus actually started, as we know by now, in November, when the first cases started to appear. So far nothing out of the ordinary.

At this point, a few words are in order about the main “culprit”, namely Autumn.  

Autumn is the season of Metal, the Element that governs over our defensive mechanisms: Lungs, Large Intestine (gut), skin. In the classical texts of traditional Chinese medicine, the Metal presents all the traits of a Prime Minister, as the intermediary between our inner universe governed by the supreme ruler, the Heart, and the outer universe.  

We use the Lungs to breathe, to provide oxygen for the production of Blood, the main domain of the Heart, to circulate the Qi around the body and to produce some of our antibodies. This means that the quality of our breathing has a direct impact on our entire body and, of course, on our immunity.

We use the Large Intestine to separate the good and valuable metals (metals = Metal) that are needed in the body from the toxic waste from the food processing. The gut also collects water from the same sources. I bet many of us breathe easier and have a much lighter day after a nice and smooth bowel movement and opening early in the morning.

Our skin is the first and foremost line of defence against all the threats out there that would like nothing best but to penetrate our body and have a field day with our internal organs and body parts. The Defensive Qi (Wei Qi) of the Metal is on patrol permanently within our skin and inside our body, performing 25 complete cycles during the day and 25 complete cycles during the night. That is why the quality of our sleep and rest is vital for our immunity, not to mention the quality of our skin, and here I’m not talking about cosmetics, but its ability to filter out the toxins through sweat, its ability to regulate our temperature and protect us from lots of other pathogens such as chemicals, or radiation.

The sensory organ of the system is the nose and the sense related to it, the smell. Most of the aromatic herbs used in herbal remedies as well as in cooking have affinity for the Lung – Large Intestine system. And that is why aromatherapy should be used wisely and not for a long time so that we don’t burn out our ability to respond to various aromas when we need it the most.  

At an emotional and spiritual level, the Metal is in charge of our personal relationships with the outer universe, pretty much like at the physical level. Which means that this is the level of interaction with the others. Our skin is the interface between the inside and the outside. The skin is not sensitive only to environmental stimuli, such as temperature, humidity, and radiation, but also to touch. We are designed to respond to touch, and various types of touching generate various responses within ourselves. Some of the touches will make us raise our defences, put on our armour and raise our shield, while others will have the opposite effect, leaving us naked and vulnerable. This is why massage therapy and cupping are one of the best therapies to boost our immunity and also meet our need for touch, and a hug is one of the best pick-me-ups.

The emotions associated with Metal are related to the balance between gain and loss: bereavement, grief, sadness, and they relate to our ability to gather, collect, open up, accept, invite, allow, let go and release. The very act of breathing represents these actions: we open up our Lungs to the exterior, we accept the air inside our body, and we allow it to offer us the gift of life. Then, we must allow the same Lungs to release all the waste components from the used air back to the exterior. A very similar process takes place in the bowels, as we release the waste elements from feeding back to the exterior. The only two voluntary processes related to our physiology are breathing and opening the bowels and they both belong to the Metal Element.

So if this is a somewhat natural process, what went wrong this year?

At this point I must mention that I am not attempting to find a cure for the novel coronavirus, I am just trying to find an answer to my own questions about it and make sense of what is happening and why.

The fundamental book of the Chinese medicine, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, is the best source for answers when confronted with a complex problem. My professors at the TCM College taught me many valuable lessons, but one is more valuable than the rest: “When in doubt, always turn to the fundamental book of Chinese medicine, that’s where you’ll find your answer”

The theory of the Five Elements applies to everything in the universe, to the outer universe, the nature, and the inner universe, the human body. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that we get a new respiratory virus with such dramatic signs in a new Chinese year under the Element of the Metal, which emerged in the season of the Metal.

The Metal has the ability to control Wood, the Element of Spring. A wise and balanced Metal will know exactly how much to prune and control the Wood so that Wood grows harmoniously. However, an excessive Metal will cut too much of the Wood. In the absence of trees, the Wind becomes unleashed. Hence the epidemic.

The fundamental book contains enough indications on what such events should be dealt with and how the practitioners should treat the cases, based on the specific signs and symptoms. Research articles are already emerging in journals on herbal remedies and acupuncture points the Chinese doctors have used to make their patients better. I was more interested in something I could do to protect myself and also share with my community.

As always, the book didn’t let me down. And this is what I found:

Huang Di asked: “The epidemic infections are often deadly and contagious. Are there any ways that health workers can prevent being infected?”

Qi Bo replied: “People with strong antipathogenic Qi do not succumb to epidemic infections. Let me share with you some of the ways. Before entering a medical facility, a health worker must focus the mond and summon the indefeatable antipathogenic forces to protect the body against any possible invasion.

This worker should practice visualising a strong Liver with green energy emanating from it to the East and producing vibrant vegetation; a white energy emanating from robust Lungs to the West turning into metal armour and weapons; a red energy emanating from an active Heart to the South creating radiant light; a deep blue energy emanating from solid Kidneys to the North forming a formidable sea; and a yellow energy emanating from a sturdy Spleen in the Middle manifesting the substantial Earth. […]”

Health means balance. If we focus on boosting only our immune system, we only feed more Metal. I strongly believe that the answer lies in balancing the Elements, not going after one in particular. And the book confirmed this to me.

The Liver – Wood governs over intuition and patience, the Metal – Lungs give us courage and cooperation, the Heart – Fire governs over love and laughter and melts excessive Metal, the Kidneys govern over trust and wisdom, and the Spleen governs over empathy. One of the articles I read about how the doctors in China dealt with the virus mentioned how much trust the patients had in their doctors and the treatments they received.

I am not saying we should stop following the recommendations of the doctors and authorities. Please continue to wash your hands and keep yourselves clean, minimise physical contact and isolate yourselves if you are ill, even if it’s just a cold.

I do believe the virus must run its course and we must reach “herd immunity”. In the absence of a vaccine, we must do it the old way, the natural way. A second wave in Autumn is to be expected and the best prevention is to be prepared, with as many people as possible armed with the best armour ever: natural immunity. By then we will know our enemy and our possible allies.

This is the blessing hidden in this epidemic: we will finally learn to take proper rest when we’re ill, we will appreciate every breath we take, and we will appreciate more the value of a hug and human contact and companionship. And we will learn to open up and work together, like the links of one strong chain.

If you want to strengthen yourself and your defences, this is what I use. Please note that this should be done regularly, not when the enemy is already at the gates. Chinese medicine is preventative medicine first and foremost. Make this part of your lifestyle.

  • The visualising above from the fundamental book. If you don’t know where the cardinal points are, just visualise an image of:  sunrise for East, full summer sun for South, sunset for West and starry night sky for North. Spend a few minutes with each organ and what it represents, as mentioned in the book. Feel free to add more, and give thanks to each of them for making you healthy.  
  • Breathing exercises and Five Elements QiGong (WuXing QiGong). I recommend the ones in Heavenly Streams. Meridian Theory in Nei Gong by Damo Mitchell. YouTube materials also available.
  • Tai Chi exercises (I am a Tai Chi instructor), nature walks and lots of enjoyable activities to nourish my spirit. Some people call them hobbies.
  • Stop following the crowds. Embrace an individualised and personalised lifestyle, adapted to your personal needs: nutrition, exercise, sleep, rest, emotional hygiene.
  • Learn to listen to your body and learn to work with yourself and not against yourself
  • I am not against supplements. However, if you learn to nurture yourself properly, for your own needs, you should not need them. The only ones I rely on, when needed, not all the time, are royal jelly, probiotics, CBD oil, and vitamin D (I live in England, after all)
  • There’s always opportunity with every challenge. Look at everything with new eyes and learn to find the hidden treasures in the muddy waters.

Moxibustion: The Magical Art of Burning Mugwort

As a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, the most frequent question I get from the people I treat for the first time is 

What is this this moxa/moxibustion?

The term moxa comes from a Japanese word that translates as burning herb.  Basically, moxibustion is heat therapy by burning herbs and it is an intrinsic part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Why heat?

Across the ages, application of heat has proven to be one of the most effective forms of treatment devised by humans. Some cultures enjoyed the blessings of thermal waters, others applied hot stones to painful areas, yet others used the power of herbs to alleviate pain and would burn them to heal wounds.

Even to this day we make use of warm patches and warm cushions to alleviate pain and discomfort, not to mention the wonderful benefits of a nice warm bath after a long day.

Contemporary Western medicine uses cauterisation procedures, which imply burning tissues in order to remove unwanted elements and sterilise a certain area.

Cauterisation triggers a very efficient and fast emergency response from the immune system. No other pathogen will create such intense and quick reaction in the body than burning fire. By creating a very small, controlled crisis, cauterisation will awaken a sluggish and dormant immune system to respond to the “emergency” call. And, once awakened, it will also deal with any other intruder found in its way.

When talking about traditional Chinese medicine, we need to mention the fact that TCM will never use ice as therapy. Cold is regarded as one of the External Devils or Pathogens. 

One will find plenty of TCM texts mentioning therapies and techniques that can be used to expel Cold, but never one therapy or technique to put Cold back as means of health preservation or health restoration.

Moxibustion as part of traditional Chinese medicine

The Chinese character for Acupuncture is a symbol which can be translated as acupuncture-moxibustion, which means that the two techniques, acupuncture and moxibustion complement each other or stem from the same medical branch.  Some written TCM texts claim that acupuncture needles have the ability to transfer and disperse energy when placed in the acupoints, while acu-moxa has the ability to awaken the energy in the acupoints.

One image that pops into my mind when I try to explain to somebody the difference between acupuncture, acupressure and acumoxa involves a sleeping dragon – the acupoint. Acupuncture awakens this dragon by poking a spear into her back, acupressure shakes her awake, while acumoxa not only awakens the dragon, but puts the fire back into the dragon’s breath.

To Mugwort or Not To Mugwort

Nowadays, there are several means to perform moxibustion, acumoxa and heat therapy.

Traditionally, acumoxa and moxibustion have been performed by burning Ai Ye, aka Artemisia argyi, aka Mugwort, a herb known for its special properties in numerous cultures.

The Artemisia family contains more than 200 different plants, all of them used in ancient traditional and herbal medicines for their properties.

In TCM, Mugwort is the main herb to be processed for acumoxa and moxibustion. However, TCM also uses Artemisia absinthium, aka Wormwood to make a vast array of herbal remedies: teas, infusions, herbal formulas, cooking herbs, essential oils, poultices, ointments, skin patches and incense. Additionally, since the two herbs have the property of repelling insects and pests, they are also placed above or around the front door, to protect the homes from insects, but also from unwanted guests.

In the ideal situation, the TCM practitioner is able to use mugwort moxa in their treatment premises. However, modern practices have limited the use of mugwort as a means of performing acumoxa and moxibustion. The main “complaints” come from the fire-fighter brigade (burnt mugwort produces smoke), but also from the clients (some are sensitive to smoke and also the smell), sometimes also from the other tenants in the building.

Smokeless moxa (charcoal) & indirect moxa device

Smokeless versions of acumoxa and moxibustion make use of specially treated charcoal, which produces about the same amount and intensity of heat but less smell and virtually zero smoke,

Another variant are the TDP infrared lamps with mineral plates. These have been designed by the Chinese as a more modern alternative to mugwort and they have become quite popular among the practitioners and clients alike. In fact, it is very seldom one will walk into a TCM treatment room and not find one lamp waiting there to be used.

However, no matter how modern or safe the more modern approaches might be, they cannot replicate the original murwort plant. Apart from the unique burning temperature and burning time, mugwort contains specific essential oils and other herbal components that the more modern instruments have yet failed to replicate. The fact that the ancient practitioners chose mugwort as herb of choice for this therapy means that there is actually no real substitute for it.

Ways to do moxa therapy

There are several ways in which moxa therapy can be included in TCM treatment sessions. Depending on the client’s complaint, the practitioner will choose the best form of moxibustion therapy.

Acumoxa focuses on applying moxa on acupoints. In this case, the moxa cones are either attached to the acupuncture needle that is being inserted in the acupoint, or the moxa is used on its own. Acumoxa uses the same acupoints as acupuncture and acupressure, only the means to manipulate the Qi at the point is the moxa cone. The heat of the moxa will penetrate the acupoint and will activate the desired response for the specific treatment.

Acumoxa can be direct or indirect.  In the case of direct moxibustion performed on an acupoint, a small amount of mugwort is rolled in a small cone or thread and it is placed directly in contact with the skin. The practitioner then sets the mugwort cone on fire and lets it burn all the way down. This type of moxibustion will leave a burn mark and a small scar. The practitioner will not go back to that specific acupoint until the scar has completely healed. This type of practice,  called scarring or marking direct moxibustion,  is very popular in the countries that created this type of traditional medicine (China, Japan, Korea, etc), but very rare in the Western countries.

The most performed direct acumoxa practice in the West is called non-scarring or non-marking direct moxibution. In this case, the small burning moxa cone or thread is left in place just until the client alerts the practitioner that they can feel the discomfort caused by the heat of the burning moxa cone. The burning ashes are then quickly removed from the skin before they can cause any scars or marks.

Indirect acumoxa will use a form of medium between the skin and the burning moxa cone or thread. Traditional mediums are ginger or garlic slices or paste and salt in the case of the navel. More modern approaches will place readymade moxa cones on a cardboard base. Depending on the make, the base will enable the mugwort smoke to reach the skin or not.

Moxibustion can also be used for large areas of the body. In this case, the practitioner focuses more on the overall painful area and less on the acupoints. Because direct moxa will cause a large scar tissue, this procedure is only performed indirectly. The practitioner will light up a mugwort or charcoal roll and just place it in the close vicinity of the skin, until the client can feel the area turning hot. This kind of indirect moxibustion is also ideal for the TDP infrared heat lamp with a mineral plate, or more traditional instruments such as copper rollers.

The effect of the moxa treatments can be enhanced by means of mugwort ointments and skin patches, as well as other warming pads. However, they should be used with caution and only if the practitioner recommends them, as they can scald the skin.

What are the benefits of moxibustion therapy?

So now, after we’ve seen what moxa therapy is and how it can be performed, the remaining question is why. Why do so many people from so many countries, like China, Japan and Korea, willingly submit themselves to such procedures that will burn their skin and leave scars?

Mugwort is said to have the following pharmaceutical properties:

  • antiasthmatic
  • antibacterial
  • antidiarrheal
  • antitussive
  • cholagogic
  • expectorant
  • haemostatic
  • sedative and hypnotic

Traditional Chinese medicine uses mugwort to:

  • warm the channels (acupoint meridians and collaterals)
  • stop bleeding
  • disperse Cold
  • calm pain
  • dispel Dampness

Cultivation of Health

A special moxa protocol for cultivation of health. Indirect smoking mugwort moxa was used. Hollow base so that the mugwort smoke will travel to the skin
Red marks due to heat, brown marks are volatile oils from mugwort, they will remain on the skin for several days, enhancing the treatment results

If you start digging a well when you’re already thirsty, you are too late.

As any other form of therapy in the traditional Chinese medicine, moxa therapy is first and foremost used for cultivation of health. Many of the moxa treatment protocols have been originally designed to help the body stay healthy when it was still healthy.

People in China, Korea and Japan will still perform moxa treatments regularly as part of cultivation of health, especially during the seasons most affected by Cold and Dampness: Spring and Autumn.

Regular moxa sessions will improve overall health and vitality and moxa is highly recommended especially for people over 40. In fact, certain moxibustionists will make their students perform moxa on themselves regularly as a regimen for good health and vitality. In the older days, young men were encouraged to marry young ladies with moxa scar marks, as a sign that these ladies were taking good care of their health and well-being.

Health Restoration

Indirect acumoxa using smoking mugwort as part of a treatment for health restoration. Will not leave volatile oil marks on skin as the base is solid and will not allow the smoke to travel to the skin. Only red marks from the heat will be visible

The moxa properties make it the ideal choice when treating many complaints caused by Cold, Dampness and Stagnation:Aches and pains

Aches and pains

  • Rheumatism
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Knee pain
  • Lumbago
  • Back pain
  • TMJ
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bunions

Lung and respiratory conditions with Phlegm or mucus

  • COPD
  • Sinusitis
  • Common cold
Abdominal moxibustion on salt (navel) as part of a treatment for IBS and diarrhoea

Digestive disorders

  • IBS
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

Sexual and reproductive conditions

  • Infertility (in TCM it is related to a Cold Uterus or Testes)
  • Painful menstruation
  • Erectile dysfunctions

Pregnancy complications

  • Breech presentation

How long a session and how many sessions?

Depending on the nature of the session – cultivation of health or health restoration, moxa treatment protocols start from a minimum of five sessions, from once a week for the cultivation of health to every fortnight or every month and they last very little in time (max 30 min).

Depending on the nature of the complaint, the treatments can be combined with acupuncture, acupressure, medical massage or cupping. In this case, the sessions may last up to one hour.

!!! Caveat !!!

Like any other form of TCM treatment, moxibustion has its precautions and contraindications and only a qualified TCM practitioner will be able to determine whether you would benefit from this therapy or not.

All forms of moxibustion will leave your skin red and sometimes blistered, much like after spending a whole day in the summer at the beach. Your practitioner will advise on the specific after-care.

Please do not perform heat therapy or moxa on yourself or other people! Moxibustion is not a universal solution to all your aches and pains and it can cause a lot of damage to your health if practiced incorrectly.

Late summer, the season of the Earth

According to the Chinese metaphysical arts, each of the Five Elements – Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth – have a corresponding season. “How can that be?” you’re probably wondering.

The months of August and September are considered a separate season, called late summer. If you look at many of the ancient and pagan traditions, many harvest festivals begin in August. August and September are the months when many celebrated Earth festivals, a time of gathering of the crops, giving thanks to Mother Earth for the plentiful gifts and enjoying the fruits of the Earth.

In my Transylvanian homeland, 6th of August is celebrated as a Christian Orthodox religious day, however, the church actually “borrowed” the day from the pagan traditions of the land. It is called “the day when the face changes”. In the religious context it is related to Jesus Christ, in the pagan one, the face is the face of nature. The Sun still shines over the land, yet its rays do not scorch the land as it did in July. The pagan tradition says that nothing grows anymore in August, but everything that has grown already ripens and matures.

In the Chinese arts, late summer is the season of the Earth element.

In Chinese medicine, Earth governs our digestive system and all its components. Its code name is The Granary.

The main two organs of the system are the Spleen (Yin) and the Stomach (Yang)

The main responsibilities of the Spleen system:

  • Transformation: digestion makes nutrients for the Blood by transforming the food intake
  • Transformation: by combining nutritive Qi with the Qi from the Lungs (air), it produces the nutrients for all the internal organs and the Blood
  • Transportation: Spleen moves Qi upwards so that the nutrients reach the Lung Qi and the organs
  • Keeps everything in its place: just like Earth holds everything in place, Spleen holds the internal organs in their proper place inside the chest cavity, including the Blood in the vessels

Given its responsibilities, the Spleen system governs over the following areas:

  • Production and quality of Blood
  • Muscle mass and limbs
  • The mouth, the tongue and the sense of taste
  • Intellectual activities, reasoning processes, memorising, logic and critical thinking

At a mental and emotional level, the Spleen is affected by:

  • Worry. “Worry knots the Qi”
  • Overthinking
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Excessive intellectual activities, reasoning, problem solving and memorising

The Stomach, the Yang partner of the Spleen, gives the Spleen its ability to discern between what is important and what is not, both in the case of digestion and in case of mental processes.

Regulating cures. The system can be kept in balance by:

  • Taste: sweet. Sweet foods can support the digestive system and can also damage it, if they are consumed excessively. Please note that the taste is given by the Chinese medicine nutrition theories and does not necessarily imply the taste felt by the tongue. For example, most grains are sweet in taste according to TCM
  • Smell: fragrant, sweet
  • Colour: yellow, gold. All yellow and brown crystals and stones support the Spleen
  • Movements: turning the waist
  • Sounds: singing, talking
  • Virtues: trust, sincerity, empathy

Spleen disorders

At a physical level:

  • gastritis (the digestive system chewing on its own parts),
  • nutrient excesses and accumulations: obesity, fatty liver, gallstones, kidney stones
  • nutrient deficiencies: lack of vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium
  • lack of appetite and energy, ME, CFS
  • overeating
  • organ prolapses, heavy bleeding: haemorrhages, heavy menstruation
  • lack of menstruation, scanty menstruation
  • metabolic diseases, such as diabetes
  • muscular dystrophy
  • any lumps, cysts and phlegm accumulations

At a mental and emotional level:

  • eating disorders, addictions
  • mental fatigue, lack of focus, inability to memorise
  • brain fog
  • no desire to speak

People with a Spleen blocked by worry fail to nurture themselves, by neglecting their needs and putting everyone else first. By trying to do everything themselves, they will try to control the odds of the outcome: “If I do this instead of waiting for my partner to do it, I don’t have to worry that it won’t be done properly or on time”, “I cannot take a day off from work because they won’t manage without me”.

Sadly, a lot of our modern life has made us believe we have to be present and in control of everything at all times and many of us we feel guilty about taking “me” time to nurture ourselves. This leads to what the TCM calls Yin deficiency or the burnout syndrome.

Singing is the sound related to this system. Because the Spleen is responsible with holding everything in place, the diaphragm was linked to the Spleen and singing was the human activity that seemed to influence the system the most. At a physical level, the diaphragm keeps together the organs situated in the abdomen, and it’s a muscle. At an emotional level, singing makes the worry disappear and it helps us memorise things easier.

The virtue of this system is trust. We trust that the world will still be out there when we take “me” time to nourish ourselves. We trust our partners to do their best, we trust our children they will be fine, even when we are no longer around, we trust we will still have our jobs by the time we come back from our vacation, we trust the Universe will provide for us no matter what.

Chinese massage therapy: what is it and why you should try it

Some years ago, long before I was even considering becoming a TCM practitioner myself, I was receiving acupuncture treatments for PMDD. Apart from the regular sessions with my very own Vlad the Impaler aka Transylvanian acupuncturist, he sent me a list of things I could do myself to speed up the recovery process. Amongst them was one that read: “Treat yourself to a massage every week or every fortnight.” I thought: “Massage? No thanks!”

Truth was the only form of massage I knew was the kind of hard kneading and poking my now ex-husband insisted of giving my shoulders and upper back and I hated every minute of it.

A year later, life decided to take a different turn for me and here I was, in another country, mending my broken heart and picking up the pieces of my life with the loving help of my new partner. I had been passionate about traditional Chinese medicine ever since I was a child, so he encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a TCM practitioner.  I enrolled to study TCM and acupuncture. An inner voice kept pushing me towards Tui Na massage. I discovered a world I never knew existed. I understood why I was screaming in pain when my ex tried his best to relax my neck and shoulders. I became enthralled even more with traditional Chinese medicine for creating this wonderful therapy!

So, what is this Chinese massage therapy?

There are many terms that describe massage therapy in Chinese language. Two of them are: An Mo 按摩, which means “press and rub” and Tui Na 推拿, which means “push and grab”. These terms encapsulate most of what we now in the West know as Chinese massage. Its techniques may seem simplistic, and, most of the times, the Westerners are surprised how these simple, natural gestures can have such a tremendous effect. 

When we hit our head, our first reaction is to put our hand over the area and rub it to make the pain go away. When we have tummy pain or toothache, we press the area with our palms. When someone is upset, we rub and tap their back gently. We instinctively use certain gestures to alleviate pain or provide comfort. We try to calm or befriend a dog or a cat by stroking their heads. Plants grow better when their leaves are touched gently. Stones become shinier and warmer when rubbed. All creatures respond to touch, and touch can both soothe and nurture, energise and invigorate. 

What are the benefits of Chinese massage?

The main purpose of the Chinese metaphysical arts is to preserve balance in all forms and, when the balance is lost, to find means for that balance to be regained.

As part of the great and wonderful family of the Chinese metaphysical arts that stem from the Tao, the Chinese massage fulfils three essential roles, all equally important:    

  • cultivation and preservation of health
  • beautification
  • therapy or restoration of health

Health is a measure of balance: when we get ill, a sign of good health is when the balance is restored in due time and without significant consequences. In other words, health is not a static concept, but the fragile and beautiful dance we perform every instance on this planet in our eternal quest for balance.

Chinese massage as a tool for cultivation and preservation of health

In China, a timely death is regarded as one of the five blessings. Ageing is a natural process that cannot be controlled. How we age is something we can control. By adapting our lifestyle to our age, sex and needs, we can enjoy a good health up to the day we die.

One of the therapies that can assist cultivation and preservation of health is massage.  A good Chinese massage course will not only teach people how to become Tui Na practitioners, but will also teach them on how to cultivate and preserve their own health by using self-massage and QiGong techniques. Cultivation of health starts with ourselves.

By working on the pathways of the meridians, acupoints and sinew channels, Tui Na

  • improves the function of the internal organs
  • lubricates the joints and tendons
  • fortifies the muscles
  • improves immunity  
  • balances the mind  

We do not have to wait to get ill to enjoy the benefits of a regular Tui Na session. In fact, people who have regular massages and self-massages are less prone to health deterioration, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional health.

Health as beauty

According to the ancient Chinese principles, beauty is a sign of good health. A relaxed face and a supple body, combined with a positive attitude, are all signs of good health. This, according to the principles of Chinese metaphysics, attracts wealth and prosperity, even a suitable partner. Beauty is regarded as free, natural flow of the Qi, it means a firm and lush skin, bright eyes that see beauty everywhere, a clear voice that sings and laughs like a clear jade bell, a content heart and a relaxed body.

Chinese massage as beauty therapy

  • improves the tone of the skin
  • helps the skin perform its essential functions of respiration and toxin removal
  • improves muscle tone  
  • accelerates metabolism
  • reduces fat tissues
  • optimises digestion

Tui Na as a medical therapy

Tui Na uses bodily manipulation techniques to fight against the number one enemy of health: stagnation.

The principle of free flow is one of the fundamental principles in traditional Chinese medicine and the rest of the Chinese metaphysical arts. The Qi must be allowed to flow freely to perform its functions and keep everything in balance. If the free flow of Qi is impaired, stagnation occurs.

Stagnation is the main culprit of any disease (dis-ease, lack of ease) and one of its main symptoms is pain: physical, mental, emotional.

By releasing the stagnation in the joints and muscles, Tui Na can improve the overall health of people suffering from a multitude of complaints:

  • arthritis
  • sports or repetitive injuries
  • muscular skeletal conditions
  • digestive disorders
  • gynaecological complaints
  • emotional distress

How does Tui Na work?

Traditional Chinese medicine operates with both matter and energy.

As a physical therapy, Tui Na uses a series of techniques to manipulate the physical body by means of acupressure, massage and stretching techniques. Physical manipulation aims to move the Qi and Blood so that the muscles, joints and tendons are warmed, lubricated and tonified.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, our physical bodies are vulnerable not only to the weather conditions or to other internal illnesses, but they can also store and become affected by our emotions and traumas.

At an energy level, the Tui Na practitioner guides the Qi using their hands and fingers into the acupoints and along the meridians to release and disperse stagnation or bring more energy into a specific area. In this respect, the practitioner’s fingers and palms act as acupuncture needles, guiding the Qi in order to supplement, reduce, or disperse the Qi in the affected areas. 

What to expect during and after a session?

Chinese massage sessions are versatile in many ways.

Because it was created to meet the needs of rich and poor alike, TuiNa can be performed with the person lying down on a plain blanket on the floor or in the field, seated on a stool or lying down on a nice and soft massage table.

Tui Na can be done with the person fully clothed, partly clothed or with no clothes on. Traditionally, the practitioner will use a white cotton sheet as a medium between them and the clients treated. TuiNa doesn’t necessarily need oils as mediums, they are rather used as aromatherapy, to increase the warming or the cooling effect of a treatment or to address a certain condition.

Depending on the aim of the sessions, the TCM practitioner will take a brief medical history of the client.

Because the techniques are designed to move Qi and Blood, TuiNa sessions may take only a few minutes in length, thus being much shorter than regular massage sessions. The sessions may last between 30 and 45 minutes.

Medical Tui Na

Medical Tui Na will take a full medical history and assess the best course of treatment for the specific situation. Most likely, the treatment sessions will also include cupping or moxibustion and therapeutic oil formulas.

The manipulations are performed exclusively within your range of mobility and comfort. While some areas might feel tender initially, you should not feel any major discomfort and the tenderness should subside.  

Expect a healing crisis after the first few sessions! This can be in the form of aches and pains becoming worse, emotional issues surfacing or feeling more tired than usual.  

It is essential that you communicate with your practitioner during and in between the sessions, even if you may think some of the symptoms and signs are irrelevant or embarrassing.

For optimum results, medical Tui Na should be performed once a week or every fortnight, with a course of treatment of 8 – 10 sessions, depending on the medical condition to be treated.  

Cautions and contraindications

As with other therapies, women who are pregnant or actively trying to conceive will receive special treatment.

Always inform the practitioner if you plan on donating blood before or after the session

Treatment will be denied to people who are

  • under the influence of alcohol, sleep inducing medication or recreational drugs
  • weak
  • very ill
  • with high fever
  • very tired
  • very hungry or fasting
  • very full (have just eaten a large meal)

Other cautions and contraindications are to be discussed with the practitioner, based on the full medical history and the type of medication and other forms of treatment received from medical professionals or holistic therapists.

It is advisable to allow the body to rest and work through the healing process before taking any other form of holistic or alternative treatments at least 24 hours before undertaking another session of any kind, including Reiki or spa treatments.

The Forsaken Art of Chinese Reflexology (aka Acupressure)

A month ago, I made the decision to give acupuncture a break, put the needles away and return to my first TCM love: acupressure.  

My colleague was shocked: “But I thought you loved acupuncture!”  

I love CHINESE MEDICINE, as one of the healing and metaphysical arts and branches of the Tao, and meridian manipulation is but one of the therapies used by the Chinese medicine.

The acupuncture needles are but mere instruments, and, while we find far more scientific studies on acupuncture and its benefits, acupressure can be just as effective and has its own range of benefits and tools of the trade that should be explored and researched.   

What is acupressure?

finger acupressure
Performing acupressure on Hegu in a case of migraine and emotional distress (please do not try to replicate at home)

Long before inventing the modern needles, the ancient art of traditional Chinese medicine recognised that applying pressure on certain points of the body could have a positive result on health. So the first tools ever used were the fingers, hands, arms and elbows. By using various pressure techniques on certain points along the meridians, they noticed that the Qi can be increased, decreased or released, thus reducing or eliminating physical and mental pain. And that’s how acupressure and massage were born as part of Chinese medicine.

There are many ways in which the Qi can be manipulated along the meridians and acupoints. The modern acupuncture needle is just one of them. Anybody can be trained on how to pin needles in safely.  However, a good Chinese medicine practitioner will feel, gather and guide the Qi into the acupoints, through their own fingers, palms or by means of other tools. Depending on the nature of these tools and the aim of the treatment, the instruments act as relays for the Qi, as amplifiers or modifiers.

Tools of the trade

In addition to the practitioner’s fingers, there’s an array of tools and mediums that can be used when working on the acupoints.

Bian stone (black), rose quartz (pink) and aventurine (green)

The oldest one is a meteorite stone that fell 65 million years ago in Shandong, China. Also known as the needle stone, the Bian stone is an excellent heat conductor, containing traces of more than 40 minerals and having anti-oxidant properties. In TCM, the stone is used to stimulate the flow of Qi, Blood and Bodily Fluids, thus relaxing the muscles and the joints and helping with lymph drainage, nurturing the skin at the same time, due to its high content in minerals.  No wonder the Bian Stone is still in use today to make acupressure, massage and gua sha tools.

The Chinese metaphysical arts were fully aware of the healing properties various crystals and semi-precious stones possessed and they used them accordingly. There is an entire materia medica in Chinese medicine that describes the healing properties of stones and crystals. For acupressure and massage, the most popular ones are rose quartz, aventurine, agate, jade or obsidian.

The mugwort herb used in moxibustion can be rolled into very fine threads that are placed on the acupoints and lit up. This technique combines the benefits of moxibustion with manipulating the Qi at various acupoints.

Just like crystals and stones, essential oils have properties that can influence the nature of the Qi. Special oil formulas, designed for various medical conditions can be applied on the acupoints, thus manipulating the Qi in a certain way.

Electricity is another means to enhance the point stimulation by means of special manufactured devices or the T.E.N.S machines. This is a more modern tool, very effective and useful nonetheless.

Press pellets

Press pellets are yet another way to stimulate the acupoints, especially in between the regular sessions. The pellets can be made from plant seeds, stone or from magnets, and their size vary according to their purpose.

Benefits and advantages of acupressure

There are multiple advantages to acupressure.

First of all, it takes away the stress of needles for people who are needle phobic. Also, it can be used in a safer manner in people suffering from type 1 diabetes, people who take anticoagulant medication or suffer from other blood disorders where acupuncture is contraindicated or can only be performed with caution.

Acupressure can be performed in areas of the body where the use of needles might be forbidden or it requires special cautions, such as the ribcage area and the torso, where there is a higher risk of pneumothorax.

Acupressure can be done through the clothes, which means it can also be done mobile, in the case of people with low or no mobility, or in less strict environments, outside a conventional treatment room.

The practitioner can train the client to perform safe self-acupressure in between the treatment sessions, thus maximising the results of the treatment and also empowering the client to become their own healers.

In terms of the benefits, acupressure has pretty much the same indications as acupuncture: physical pain, mental disorders and illnesses, sleep disorders, digestive issues and syndromes, infertility, male and female dysfunctions, hypertension, etc.

Personally, I think acupuncture can be a bit cold and impersonal. Some practitioners just place the needles and leave the client alone in the room to either tend to another client in another room or to do something else.  Acupressure, just like massage, creates a more personal energy exchange and relationship with the client, I get to spend more time palpating the acupoints and I get to collect far more information based on the client’s reactions and responses during the actual treatment than I get during an acupuncture session. This helps me to adjust the treatment accordingly.

Cautions and contraindications of acupressure

The cautions and contraindications are pretty much the same in the case of acupressure as in the case of acupuncture. While it is safer to practice acupressure on certain acupoints, unless one is properly trained in locating the acupoints and is familiarised with their actions, cautions and contraindications, acupressure can do a lot of damage. So, please, do not trust every bit of information you find online about such and such a point being a miracle cure for everything.

Also, if the practitioner recommends you to perform acupressure or massage over certain areas, those recommendations have been made exclusively for your medical complaints and should by no means be transmitted to other people, just because “I learned this from my therapist, so it must be ok”.

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