Living Optimally vs. Healing Disease
or, "If Superman can't Save you
Because of Your Kryptonite,
Can Rocketman Defeat
Mr. Hyde's Invisible Rubberbands?"
by Brian Benjamin
Carter, MS, LAc
Brian is the founder of the
Pulse of Oriental Medicine. He teaches at the Pacific College
of Oriental Medicine and maintains a private practice in
San Diego, California, and is the author of Powerful
Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs,
Looking for a quick fix?
Most PulseMed visitors come in via Google looking for specific
info about their complaint- sinus infections, infertility, migraines,
whatevah. Many leave after reading the page they came for. But
some realize there is more here - not just more articles, but
an entire system of wellness medicine. In a typical month this
year, a tenth of PulseMed readers are return visitors. One out
of every 20 visitors comes back three or more times a month. And
one out of every 83 of them comes 10 or more times amonth. But
most (89%) are looking to heal their chief complaint and move
We'll fix you
In medicine, we call it the chief complaint because it's your
most worrisome, and your highest priority. That's why most of
you come to an acupuncturist or to Pulsemed.org. And we are duty-bound
to help you relieve your suffering.
So you don't have to come back forever
But when we understand the underlying causes, the living habits
that led you to this problem, we also have a duty to educate.
We want to tell you how to change so you don't get that same problem
again. We aren't trying to lure you into more visits just so we
can pay for our Hummer H2 or house on the hill. We're trying to
make you self-sufficient so you can live well without us. No matter
how much we like you, we're trying to get rid of you - the right
Otherwise you'll get sick again and again
If we just treat your chief complaint, and don't educate you
about prevention and living well, we're silently complicit in
your future health problems. There's no guarantee that we can
change your lifestyle. That's your decision. But if we skillfully
present you with alternatives and explain their benefits, we've
done our job.
I believe some healers neglect this task, for a variety of reasons,
- Lack of time (real or perceived)
- May not believe patients want to pay for personalized preventive
- Get tired of saying same things over and over again
- Believe people won't change anyway
- Interested in fixing, not prevention
- Believe prevention doesn't work
Well, is it true? Are you unwilling to pay for an extra 15 minutes
to understand where your problem came from and how to prevent
it? Are you unwilling to change your habits, your foods, your
exercise, etc. to live better and prevent disease? If not, you
need a healer or resource that does this.
So you need an education of sorts
That's one of the functions of this website - I write not only
about what people are searching for online, but also the things
I've said over and over to my patients. After five years, I still
haven't said it all. And that's also the function of my new book,
Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind. All the acupuncturists I've talked
to want to direct their patients to a resource that will give
you an opportunity in your spare time to get a better understanding
of Chinese medicine. The books already out there haven't quite
Because after the screaming is over
My main purpose in this article is to show you that there's more
to healing than fixing the big screaming current problem. If you
forget that, you'll go back to the same old things that got you
where you were. It's almost a cliché by now, or perhaps
it's becoming a proverb: one definition of insanity is doing the
same thing over and over expecting a different result.
You'll need to live well so you can prevent future diseases
Wellness is living in a healthier way. What you do to live and
feel well are often the same things you'd do to prevent disease.
For example, you might take Vitamin C, Coenzyme Q10, and essential
fatty acids (EFAs) because people like Andrew Weil have recommended
them, claiming that they improve your physical and mental function,
make you feel better, and prevent disease. And they do.
But we're used to one-shot deals
I think many miss out on real healing because of how we expect
medicine to be. For decades now, medicine has been like auto repair.
You get in a wreck, take it to the shop, get it fixed, and go
on - like going to the emergency room. Or, you get a milder but
disturbing symptom like anxiety, depression, or sinusitis, you
get a prescription the doctor, you get a drug from the drugstore,
and then go on with life.
And that's not how Chinese medicine works
Herbal medicine is similar to the drug model, but more personalized,
and your formula should change as you improve and get more balanced.
It also will change if you get a cold or flu.
Acupuncture affects more than just the physical, but it's delivered
like physical therapy. No one who needs physical rehabilitation
would expect to go just once and be all better. Yet some go to
an acupuncturist, not quite believing in it, yet expecting a miracle
cure in one treatment.
We know acupuncture's benefits are cumulative. It's like filling
up a water balloon, one ounce a week over a few months. If you
stop before it's full, before the balloon's neck has been tied
off, life's happenings will shake the water out of the balloon.
You may lose all your progress.
I've treated a number of complaints like muscle spasms, and regardless
of where they are located - shoulder, hips, or back - even if
we eliminate other causes like posture, work habits, or physical
asymmetries, we still have to treat it until it's gone, and then
some. Long-term problems behave like memories, and acupuncture
erases them - in this case, the muscle spasm needs to be forgotten,
The Chinese have the habit of treating a few more times after
the symptom is gone to 'consolidate' the treatment. That makes
it permanent. I was a bit skeptical about this procedure, so I
let a patient go without the extra treatments (his supraspinatus
muscle spasm had progressively improved over six weeks and finally
was completely gone) - he wanted to save the visits left on his
insurance in case other problems came up that year. Lo and behold,
the next week, he was back. The pain had begun to return. We got
rid of it then, and treated it a couple more times, and it stayed
gone. Now I always suggest consolidating the treatment. It's like
tying off that water balloon's neck. Now just be careful where
you throw that thing
So, of course acupuncture makes sense for physical rehab, but
what about the kinds of things for which we'd just see an MD once,
get a drug, and go on with life?
Even mental and emotional treatments take time
I can't say whether psychiatric drugs fix or just mask problems
like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Obviously, simple sedatives
for insomnia just knock you out and don't get to the root causes.
On that note, even Ambien, given the sleepwalking, anger, and
other episodes people have (and don't remember) on it, only deals
with part of the problem.
But acupuncture and herbal remedies, which appear to make more
fundamental balancing and normalizing changes, take time and work
Because the needles are teaching your nervous system
One of my acupuncture teachers, Marly Wexler, used to say acupuncture
was "putting information in," and that we needed to
keep doing that so your body would get the message. That analogy
fits with the scientific data about how acupuncture works - it
stimulates afferent nerve fibers, which send an impulse to the
brain, which in turn responds differently to different points.
Zang-Hee Cho of UC Irvine found via PET-scan that certain foot
points stimulate the visual cortex of the brain in the same way
light shined into the eye does.
This process of inputting information via acupuncture appears
to work the way learning does. I am not a neuroscientist - so
correct me if I've got it wrong - but I believe memories, habits,
even pain are, at least in part, well-established patterns of
This is a complicated area to study, let alone to explain - for
example, modern research demonstrates that mental content and
brain activity can be correlated, but cannot be shown to be causative.
That means that changing neurotransmitters or stimulating the
brain can change the mind, but we cannot say for sure that mind
is a product of brain. And what about the organ transplant people
who have the memories and desires of the organ donor? This is
metaphysical, and difficult to discuss!
And teaching is a process that takes time
Regardless, few people can learn new information in one shot,
let alone new habits, new perspectives, or new ways to feel and
be. Since acupuncture stimulates and works through the nervous
system and brain, it changes the way our brain directs our body,
and the way our brain works. This takes time.
Acupuncture 'normalizes'. I say this because: our medicine's cumulative
experience over thousands of years does not warn of some great
danger of choosing the wrong points; acupuncture students find
that they either get incredible results, reasonable results, or
no result at all; the only ways to damage a patient are strictly
physical, and are almost impossible to do if you've been properly
educated and licensed. Acupuncture is either basically innocuous,
or restorative to one degree or another.
Students may hang out with ruffians or play video games instead
As we live, we get caught in bad cycles, develop bad habits, indulge
unhealthy cravings, and the longer we do these things, the more
deeply grooved in they become.
What's worse, bad habits are easier to reinforce than good ones.
Good ones are easier to lose and harder to get. Remember, I'm
talking about habits, memories, and grooves, because we're dealing
with the nervous system and brain.
Homeostasis is our superhero
Fortunately, we have homeostasis, the body's inborn ability to
maintain health. This is immunity, self-repair, blood clotting,
etc. The forces of good, the janitors and trashmen, the police,
the military, and the ER, all rolled into one.
But we're Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde
But there is something else at work
the thing that urges
us to make unhealthy choices, to revel in self-destruction, to
give up on good things, to forget how good doing the good things
made us feel but to vividly remember with your whole body how
good the bad things make us feel. I'll let you name that phenomenon
Classic Chinese medicine (originally based in Taoist philosophy)
associates it with the po, or the spirit/essence of the Lungs,
which is bodily awareness, coordination, and proprioception. The
po is considered more yin than the hun, the spirit of the Liver,
which is more yang. It is even the location of the impulse for
suicide and death.
Translator Philippe Sionneau reveals the old Taoist description
of these beliefs. "Whil the three hun sustain life, the seven
po favor the death principles. 'Man lives [and] consequently he
follows the Hun. Man dies [and] consequently he follows the Po,'(Yu
Han Mi Dian (1) - Secret Book of the Jade
Case). This is particularly true for the 'three corpses' (san
shi), which are actual morbid and deadly processes within life
A horrible topic. But the main point is, Chinese medicine has
a name for this unhealthy urge within us. Freud would correlate
this with part of the Id, or baser primeval instincts, and thanatos,
the death instinct, which corresponds to anything destructive.
These two forces, destructive and construction, fight it out
within our personalities, and one or the other gains strength
from our associates, attitude, motives, goals, values, and other
influences. Geriatric researchers have concluded that a positive
attitude is the main differentiator in those who live the longest.
Many people, not the least of which Dale Carnegie, W. Clement
Stone, and Norman Vincent Peale, would tell you that positive
attitude is essential, perhaps even primary.
Does this have anything to do with health? The findings of researchers
in Denmark who followed 314 elderly men and women found that negative
thoughts and worry, regardless of whether the subjects appeared
negative to others, could be detrimental to health. (2)
Of course, this is just one study, not a comprehensive review
of the research.
Where is Super-homeostasis and what's his Kryptonite?
Where's homeostasis when we need it? (Think Niagra Falls and
the falling kid - where's Superman?) Homeostasis, our inner healer,
is a limited force. If overwhelmed, we must help the body get
back to a place where it can become active again. You have an
inner healing capacity, but it can't withstand everything. Your
Mr. Hyde, your bad impulses, are kryptonite to homeostasis.
If you eat poorly, think negatively, work too much, and don't
rest, you're using all your resources without replenishing them.
You're gonna crash and burn. Once a disease process roots/grooves
itself in, it takes serious effort to get it out of there.
Rocket(wo)man vs. the Rubberbands
Think rocketship trying to leave Earth's pull. It needs force
enough to leave the ground and shoot through the stratosphere,
and more to break free of gravity's invisible rubber bands.
To leave disease behind, you must develop momentum, continue
to push, give effort until you break free. You can't just push
a little here and there every once and a while. If you do, you
might as well give up, because your efforts are erased by gravity,
by disease inertia.
Healing momentum can come from herbs, foods, acupuncture, acupressure,
exercise, laughter, basketball, rock climbing, pizza - oops, sorry,
forget the last few there - changing what's around you to better
influences, and so on. But you must have these consistently enough
to build enough momentum (we call that 'mo' around here) to escape
the forces holding you back.
Ok, so take off.
- Texte taoïste tiré du Zang Wai Dao Shu (Canon
externe des livres taoïstes) cité page 274 par le
Dao Jiao Yi Xue (médecine taoïste) écrit
par Gai Jian Min et publié par Zong Jiao Wen Hua Chu
Ban She (Editions des religions et des civilisations) en 2001,
à Bei Jing. Oh yeah, Philippe is French.
- Thomsen DK, Mehlsen MY, Hokland M, Viidik A, Olesen F, Avlund
K, Munk K, Zachariae R. Negative
thoughts and health: associations among rumination, immunity,
and health care utilization in a young and elderly sample.
Psychosom Med. 2004 May-Jun;66(3):363-71.