Jennifer Moffit is a Licensed Acupuncturist
with a Masters of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine.
She received a Bachelor's of Science in Environmental
Toxicology at UC Davis, teaches Oriental Medicine to
medical students at UCSD, and practices in San Diego
at the West Coast Center for Integrative Medicine.
||I had the good fortune last night after work to go for a
walk out in the canyons near my home. It was an unusually
warm day ("near record temperatures"), and it felt
like summertime. On the way home I happened to pass the yard
of someone who was watering and the pavement was wet - that
special smell, only found in summertime, was in the air.
With the approach of summer, I think of the rising yang, and
what a good time it is for those of us who practice Oriental medicine.
Yin and Yang are the basis of our medicine, a fundamental subdivision
that the early Chinese scholars used to try and describe the nature
of the universe.
Yin is everything that is cool, and moist, water, black, night,
winter, nourishing, calm, and immobile. Yang, on the other hand,
is the pure fire element: warm, moving, summer, upward, vibrant,
and energetic. Everything in the universe breaks down into the
balance between yin and yang. Nothing is firmly one or the other
- there is always a small element of yin within the yang, and
a small element of yang within the yin. While Chinese medicine
can seem foreign in the beginning, the basis of the medicine is
really about restoring this intrinsic balance within the body.
For those who suffer from chronic pain or illness, the change
of seasons is a great time to work on resolving their condition.
Spring and summer are about nature's increasing yang: flowers
begin to bloom, gardens grow, and there are more daylight hours.
The yang energy is moving up and out as growth and development.
We are not separate from this process - it happens in us as well.
Thus, we can use the nature of the season to help reinforce the
Going With the Flow
For many, going "back to basics" seems too simple.
We like things complex and multi-layered. Our lifestyles move
at a hectic pace, supported by technology so dizzying we can barely
keep up. We have become used to having the world at our fingertips
- all the answers to our problems merely a "Google-click"
Somehow, it seems that we have lost touch with the process, the
enjoyment of the journey itself. We have become so goal oriented
and used to having instant results that often we don't realize
the inner process needed to support it.
We want medicine to be the same way.
Our over-reliance on pharmaceuticals and technology has created
a false picture about the body and the healing process in general.
Everything should be quick, easily diagnosed and measurable. Hollywood
shows like ER have only reinforced this notion, luring us to think
everything should be neatly resolved in a one-hour segment, and
that we can look good while doing it.
It is interesting that no one on these shows ever has a chronic
degenerative problem that is difficult to diagnose or treat. It's
always the cool flashy stuff, multiple organ transplants, racing
with the little refrigerated lunchbox through the hospital in
the nick of time
But our advances in science and medicine have not translated
to better health or a better quality of life; in fact, many of
us feel worse than ever before. We are a nation struggling with
obesity. Endocrine, autoimmune, and cardiovascular disorders are
widespread. Chronic degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's are
on the rise, and almost 10% of our children have been diagnosed
with attention deficit or behavioral disorders. Where has science
failed? Why hasn't technology led to true healing?
It's not a lack of information; we're more knowledgeable about
the importance of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and prevention than
ever before. But for some reason we don't really get what that
means on a daily basis in the form of action. We can't believe
it could be so simple as what we put in our mouths, or how we
structure our day. The dazzling power of emergency medicine has
blinded us to the subtle (and even obvious) signs of a body moving
out of balance, of impending illness or injury. Then, when we
fail to overcome that bad cold, or the muscle strain becomes chronic,
we wonder why.
It Begins With Qi
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is the presence of
qi (pronounced chee), which governs all the functions of the body,
and allows healing to occur. Qi is defined as vital air. In Chinese
kanji, the character is pictured as the vapor coming from grains
of rice. It is a great image, and it illustrates the easiest way
to cultivate it: from the food that we eat and drink. When I teach
TCM to medical students, I describe qi as a qualitative expression
for all the cellular processes in the body: ATP production, protein
synthesis in the mitochondria, DNA and RNA replication, mitosis
and meiosis, and endocrine balance, all of which result in a measurable
quantity of vital substances for the body. Blood chemistry panels
including blood sugar, hormone levels, CBC, liver panels are all
quantitative ways of measuring how effectively the body is doing
But we are more than the sum total of our blood chemistry - there
is a synergistic process by which all of these separate reactions
come together to sustain the body. It is how we function reasonably
well even when we haven't had enough rest, or we've eaten too
many tacos. But what about when there's no discernable problem,
and the body still breaks down? What has happened then?
This is when it helps to understand both eastern and western
medicine. TCM allows us to consider not only the measurable aspects
of qi in the body (in the form of blood, cellular chemistry, etc.),
but also movement - how and where it flows, and how too much here
and not enough over there can result in pain, chronic disease,
and fatigue. It explains the relationships between the different
organ systems, and how disharmony in one can lead to disharmony
in the entire system. TCM provides a way for us to restore proper
balance by using acupuncture, herbs, supplements, foods, etc.
- either alone or in combination.
Admittedly, many people find the concept of wellness a little
nebulous, so I try to keep it real for them. Everyone recalls,
even dimly, a time when they felt great, full of energy, and free
from pain. It's not esoteric. Pain-free and full of energy equals
good. Tired, stressed, sick all the time, and in pain equals bad.
My job as a practitioner of TCM is to figure out where your wires
got crossed, where you got unplugged, and reset the circuits your
body needs to begin the healing process. That is an important
point to remember - no treatment or practitioner can fix you -
all physicians, no matter what style of medicine they practice,
merely help make it possible for your body to heal.
As an acupuncturist in my first years of practice, I think I
lost sight of this - newly credentialed, ready for action - let
the healing begin! I was incredibly results-driven: if everything
wasn't neatly wrapped up for a patient in a month or two, somehow
I had not done my job. This was partly out of compassion - having
suffered from debilitating chronic pain for more than a decade
(what drove me to alternative medicine), I did not want anyone
else to suffer like I had. I wanted it over quickly, so that they
could resume their lives - business as usual. But my own healing
process wasn't that way. It took much longer due to my resistance
to basic laws of nature that I could not, or would not, believe
made a difference in the process, and which my training as a scientist
caused me to dismiss as superstition.
So all that said, what are the basics? What are the natural laws
that seem to support health and how can we use the season to help
support those changes?
No magic here, I'm afraid and most of you already know the answer:
qi gong, tai chi, diet and cellular nutrition, bodywork, sleep,
exercise, play, prayer, and acceptance. While this may seem like
yesterday's news (been there, done that), some of the details
added by Chinese medicine might surprise you.
In this series of articles, we'll re-examine the "basics"
necessary for health by including both eastern and western biomedical
concepts, in time for you to take full advantage of the spring
and summer season. Stay tuned for my next article!