A recent study performed by the Shanghai Institute of Acupuncture & Meridian and the Endoscopy Center of Zhongshan Hospital at Fudan University showed that the combined use of acupuncture and moxibustion (the burning of herbs over specific acupoints) had a significantly positive effect in those suffering from active Crohn’s Disease. The patients in the treatment group showed a statistically significant increase in hemoglobin levels (related to the presence and severity of anemia), a decrease in C-reactive proteins (an inflammation marker) at the end of the treatment cycle as well as an increased quality of life and symptomatic relief.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
According to Western medicine, Crohn’s disease is a chronic gastrointestinal inflammatory disease. It is similar to ulcerative colitis, another inflammatory bowel disease which affects the large intestine & rectum. Unlike ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere in the intestine, and often presents in patches surrounded by healthy tissue. It can also spread to the deeper tissues and can cause intestinal obstructions, ulcers (most often in the lower part of the small intestine, the large intestine, or the rectum), fistulas (hollow passages from one part of the intestine to another), and anal fissures (a crack in the anus or the skin around the anus that can lead to infection).
Symptoms may include:
- Diarrhea (with or without blood), often urgent
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Floating stools (caused by poor digestion of fats)
- Anemia (low iron levels due to malabsorption of nutrients)
- Crohn’s disease can also be associated with complications involving the eyes, mouth, skin, and joints
What causes Crohn’s Disease?
The exact cause is still unclear, but a faulty immune system response is one theory. Other risk factors seem to be genetic, a poor diet high in saturated fats and processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables, smoking and obesity.
How can Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine help?
Chinese medicine generally classifies Crohn’s disease into one of four basic categories, words in italics indicate Chinese medical terminology:
- Invasion of Damp-Heat in the large intestine – acute and sudden onset of gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea, mucus and/or blood in the stool, foul-smelling stools, yellow urine, abdominal fullness/pain, urgency to have a bowel movement or bearing down sensation, burning pains after bowel movement, irritability, thirst, preference for cold drinks.
- Spleen Weakness – may be due to a constitutional weakness or from the overeating of cold and raw foods. Symptoms may include frequent and severe diarrhea, watery stool with undigested food; dull abdominal pain, poor appetite, poor digestion, gastric discomfort after eating, pale complexion, fatigue/lethargy.
- Spleen & Kidney Weakness – early morning diarrhea around 5:00am, abdominal pain increases with cold but decreases after bowel movement, intolerance to cold, cold hands & feet.
- Qi & Blood Stagnation – resembles an acute phase of Crohn’s disease with severe abdominal pain and fullness with palpable mass in right lower abdomen. Other symptoms can include diarrhea, lack of appetite, muscle wasting and lethargy.
Both Western and Chinese medicines recognize the importance of diet and its role in prevention and treatment of Crohn’s disease. Diet plays an important role in both the prevention and effective treatment of the illness. Excessive dietary intake of cold and raw foods – think salads, juices, ice cream, iced drinks – may injure the spleen/stomach’s ability to transform and process foods adequately. Lots of roughage like raw fruits and vegetables can sometimes worsen the intestinal obstruction and colic and should be avoided. It is also advised to avoid food triggers such as certain chemicals and dyes found in foods. Milk, cheese and other dairy products should also be avoided, especially if lactose intolerant.
The combination of herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion and dietary therapies can be very effective in controlling and even correcting the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease. If you or someone you know is suffering from Crohn’s disease or other gastrointestinal symptoms, consider Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine as a path to wellness.
Jennifer Etheridge L.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist at Integrative Acupuncture in Montpelier, Vermont. Jennifer received her Master of Science degree from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, NM. She is certified as a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine (Dipl. O.M.) by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Stay up to date with acupuncture news by liking us on facebook: www.facebook.com/integrativeaom and follow our blog at www.integrativeaom.com
Jennifer Etheridge LAc and Kerry Jenni LAc
What are postpartum mood disorders?
Approximately 80% of women experience some sort of postpartum mood disorder, the mildest of which is often termed the “baby blues.” Symptoms may appear within the first 24 hours after delivery and can include:
- Mood instability
- Decreased concentration
These symptoms are generally limited to the first few days to weeks postpartum and is actually quite common. According to Western medicine, many theories have been presented as to why this phenomenon occurs in women after giving birth. Some of these include; pituitary damage due to a sudden drop in blood pressure during delivery, sudden drop in serum thyroid hormone levels between the final trimester and the first few days postpartum, and there have also been studies investigating the role of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine that remain inconclusive. These symptoms usually abate as mom’s hormones regulate.
Postpartum depression may first appear to be nothing more than the baby blues, however, symptoms are more intense and longer lasting. They are symptoms which can eventually interfere with mom’s ability to care for her baby or handle other daily tasks. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability or anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of libido
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of guilt, shame or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Withdrawal from friends and family
Untreated, postpartum depression may linger for a year or more.
How does Chinese Medicine view postpartum mood disorders?
According to Chinese medicine, the majority of postpartum mental-emotional disorders are rooted in vacuity or deficiency. It is extremely demanding on a woman’s body and resources to nurture and support a baby, and then to give birth. There is also excessive blood and fluid loss during the birthing process as well as consumption of blood and fluids during breast-feeding.
In Chinese medicine, the Heart (fire) houses the spirit, and the spirit is nourished and rooted in the blood. When the blood becomes weak, it cannot anchor the spirit, and the spirit becomes restless and unsettled. This can give rise to palpitations, insomnia, dizziness, agitation, and lack of tranquility among other things.
The Heart qi and blood are rooted in the Spleen (earth), and as such, Heart vacuity is often complicated by Spleen vacuity. This may give rise to fatigue, lethargy, lack of strength. The situation can become further complicated by the interference of the wood element (liver), causing symptoms of irritability, anger, dizziness, moodiness, etc.
How can Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine help?
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine may be used in both preventative and symptomatic treatment. By utilizing acupuncture, herbal formulas tailored to the woman’s specific needs and dietary counseling, a great deal can be done to help the condition. To help restore a woman’s energies after childbirth consider supplementing the diet with the following Qi and blood tonic foods:
- Bone marrow soup
- Chicken livers
- Flax Oil
- Blackstrap molasses
- Dark berries- raspberries and blueberries
Symptoms are, of course, best treated by means of prevention. This may include all of the therapies listed above during pregnancy or directly after delivery as well as throughout the first several weeks or months postpartum. Your acupuncturist can work with you to address specific symptoms you are currently experiencing or are worried about, as well as help to guide you toward a healthy diet for pregnancy and postpartum needs. If you or someone you love is experiencing signs of depression, please contact a primary care provider. Your acupuncturist can work to provide complementary care to reduce symptoms of depression.
Jennifer Etheridge, M.S.O.M., L.Ac and Kerry Jenni, M.S. L.Ac are nationally board certified and licensed acupuncturists providing care for a full range of health conditions including pregnancy and postpartum in downtown Montpelier at Integrative Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Jennifer and Kerry work in collaboration with medical providers from Central Vermont Medical Center to provide integrative health solutions. For more information and to schedule an appointment please visit www.integrativeaom.com and follow us on Facebook.
Does this sound familiar? You start your day full of good intentions. Today is the day you are not going to turn to food. Today is the day you get back on track . . . and stay on track. No more overeating. No more bingeing. No more expensive shopping trips for loads of comfort foods. You are done with all that. And you really mean it (again).
Your resolve lasts until your first emotional upheaval of the day. When you feel disappointment or anxiety or guilt or regret or sadness, your good intentions start to weaken. It is so uncomfortable, you need something to take the edge off, and food is readily available to help: the chips in the break room, the candy on the co-worker’s desk, the grocery store full of comfort foods.
Emotional eating is difficult to stop because on some level it works. It solves a problem for you. It can rescue you from painful emotions, distract you from fears, and numb you out. There is a definite payoff, so to speak. In fact, the biochemistry associated with excessive eating has led researchers to investigate it as a form of addiction.
However, if the above scenario resonates with you, you also know that eating is an imperfect solution to how to feel better in the world. Emotional eating can undermine your physical health, your friendships, your romantic relationships, and even your self-respect. You miss out on a lot of life while checking out with food.
There is no shame in having a problem to solve. The question, however, is how can you meet your needs in a healthier way? The good news is there are alternatives for lasting change, and Chinese medicine is one of them. Chinese medicine is a powerful tool to make peace with food because it supports overall physical and emotional health.
Chinese medicine recognizes that how we are in the world is a reflection of our physical and emotional health. When we habitually engage in destructive behaviors like emotional eating, it simply indicates something is out of balance.
What is out of balance can differ for each person, although common themes often emerge. Sometimes the problem is an actual excessive physical appetite and never feeling full. Sometimes it is a blood sugar imbalance. Sometimes it is an insistent craving for a particular flavor. Sometimes it is excessive anxiety, worry, depression, shame, resentment, or guilt. Sometimes it is needing help being present for emotions and making more conscious choices. Sometimes it is all of the above.
Chinese medicine has a variety of tools to address this range of imbalances: acupuncture, meditation and qi gong, and herbal medicine.
Acupuncture, for instance, can be enormously useful for breaking free from emotional eating. One of the first things people notice about acupuncture treatment is a sense of calm, centeredness, and relaxation. As treatment progresses, patients report they consistently feel less reactive, are more emotionally present, and make better decisions.
This makes sense in light of what Western research is revealing about acupuncture: stimulating acupuncture points regulates the nervous system, as well as your neurotransmitters and hormones. Once these systems are balanced, many things fall into place, including emotional equilibrium and resilience.
Meditation and qi gong (meditative movements, often coordinated with breathing) are additional resources to make peace with food. These ancient techniques are ways to practice being present, aware of your thoughts, and connected to your body. We live in a culture that discourages making friends with our body and listening to what it actually needs. Qi gong and meditation are ways to reconnect, a quiet but revolutionary act. Once you learn these methods, you can practice them on your own, and they are lifelong tools you can use whenever you want or need.
Herbal medicine is another branch of Chinese medicine relevant to healing your relationship with food. Combinations of herbs in formulas that have been used for thousands of years can help heal the body and mind. When our systems are regulated, we are more emotionally adaptive, flexible, and present.
What ultimately breaks the cycle of emotional eating is being equipped and able to make conscious and self-nurturing decisions. When you are working from a healthier place, how you navigate your life shifts for the better. The space between the impulse to binge or emotionally eat and the actual decision to binge is where new possibilities are. Becoming more centered through acupuncture and Chinese medicine allows you to access these possibilities.
When you are centered and well, the emotional eating no longer runs the show. You are in charge rather than the anxiety or the shame or the frustration or the cravings. When you are able to make better choices, whole new worlds open up.
Norah McIntire is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who has treated eating disorders in private practice since 2002. She has also worked with several outpatient eating disorder programs and addiction treatment centers, providing acupuncture and meditation instruction to their clients. Norah earned her master’s degree from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego and is both California licensed and nationally certified in acupuncture and herbal medicine. In addition, Norah has studied in China, doing clinical work at Nanjing Hospital and attending seminars through the China Nanjing International Acupuncture Training Center. She currently practices in West Hollywood, where she uses acupuncture, herbal medicine, meditation, tai chi/qi gong, and other tools of Chinese medicine to help people make peace with food. Her website is www.acuadvantage.com.
There are many many reasons to get acupuncture for your health and well being, but this list is going to focus on the top 5 women’s health concerns that I see in my practice. Our practice specializes in fertility and women’s health and we have been helping women (and men) for over 10 years.
Most of my practice for over the past 10 years has focused on helping women conceive. This has been something I have been passionate about since I was in graduate school and did my final year research work on infertility and the acupuncture treatment of it. Acupuncture can help women conceive naturally, or help them during the process of fertility treatments with a reproductive endocrinologist. Whenever anyone comes in for acupuncture, we always first look at a detailed health history, and for fertility patients, the health history includes an additional three pages of menstrual and fertility history, so we can get the big picture of what is going on in the body from a Chinese Medical perspective. Based on the cause of infertility (and many times the cause is unexplained by the fertility doctors) and other signs and symptoms, a treatment protocol is set up to work on the underlying imbalances causing trouble conceiving. Many of the reasons people seek acupuncture for infertility (and not just women, men too) are for irregular periods, age related fertility issues, high FSH, endometriosis, PCOS, recurrent miscarriage, low sperm count, poor responder to the medication, anovulatory cycles, and more. While going through fertility treatments, such as IVF treatments will be catered around the fertility treatments to maximize each patient’s success at conception. Also, acupuncture helps tremendously with the emotional aspect of the fertility process, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as the side effects of some fertility medications such as headaches, mood swings, and bloating. Acupuncture is a natural and invaluable way for women to boost their chances at a successful pregnancy.
- Pregnancy and Postpartum Support
Acupuncture, when done by a qualified and trained acupuncturist, is completely safe to receive during pregnancy. Many women come in first to help with symptoms of the first trimester such as morning sickness, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and body aches and pains, but then continue throughout the remainder of their pregnancy for other reasons. General health and well-being, pain, allergies & sinus congestion, migraines, and immune system building are all reasons women come in during pregnancy, but the two biggest reasons I see women in the third trimester are to turn a breech baby (this is done with moxibustion, the burning of the herb moxa) and to induce labor. After labor and delivery women often continue to receive acupuncture treatments to rebuild their Qi and blood, increase milk supply, but what might be the biggest reason new moms seek acupuncture is for treating postpartum depression. Acupuncture is a natural and safe option for women experiencing depression, as well as anxiety, in the postpartum stages.
Endometriosis can cause women to experience backache, severe cramping, heavy bleeding, sciatica, urinary frequency and pain, vomiting, trouble passing stool, abdominal pain and swelling. Untreated, endometriosis can also become a cause of female infertility . Acupuncture looks at the symptoms and other signs the body shows us and treats accordingly. In Chinese medicine, pain and endometriosis is usually caused when the blood and the Qi are stuck and not flowing smoothly. The imbalances which cause these stagnations can be caused by many factors, physical and emotional stress being some of the biggest ones. With regular acupuncture treatments most women see improvements in their symptoms in the first or second menstrual cycle. It is a wonderful thing when women can have a menstrual cycle with little to no symptoms, not miss work, no longer need heavy drugs to get through each month, and to not have the other symptoms that appear with endometriosis, when previously they suffered every month.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS):
PCOS is a condition that is affecting more and more women every year, affecting, on average, about 10% of women of child bearing age. PCOS can manifest differently for each women, but is often a leading cause of infertility. Some of the symptoms of PCOS are ovarian cysts, irregular or absent menstrual cycles, weight gain, facial and body hair growth, and insulin resistance. Acupuncture is a drug free, safe, option for helping women with PCOS. By looking at a full health history, as well as the tongue and the pulse, acupuncturists can determine the underlying imbalances in the body which can cause PCOS to arise in a woman. With regular treatments, women see a decrease in symptoms and most will see their menstrual cycles regulate themselves. Many women can continue to treat their PCOS naturally and avoid medication for PCOS, as well as medication for trying to conceive.
- Menopause and Perimenopause
Perimenopause is the time in a woman’s life when her body is preparing for menopause and generally when she will start to experience symptoms and signs of this shift in hormones. The most common symptoms are hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, anxiety, insomnia, lowered sex drive, depression, fatigue, palpitations, and weight gain. When I was finishing up my clinic work in acupuncture school a big study was released discussing the risks of HRT (traditional hormone replacement therapy) and from that day forth, our clinic was filled with women looking for a safe and natural solution to their symptoms. This became a crash course for me on how to treat women going through menopause. With acupuncture, most women report feeling more like themselves, have more energy from better sleep, especially while not being interrupted by night sweats, and a reduction in the other emotional and physical symptoms. Menopause is a natural process the body goes through, but with acupuncture, many women can feel relief from the symptoms and it can help them transition relatively easily without much disruption to their day to day lives.
Meredith Murphy is a licensed acupuncturist in the state of Pennsylvania and certified as a Diplomate of Acupuncture by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). She received her Master of Acupuncture degree from the New England School of Acupuncture in Massachusetts, the oldest school of acupuncture in the country and a leader in the field of traditional Asian medicine. Meredith is the owner of The Natural Fertility Center of PA located in King of Prussia, PA and has been helping women (and men!) conceive for over 10 years. www.naturalfertilitycenter.com
By Lynn Jaffee
As a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, I frequently see patients who mention that they are concerned about their weight. For most, it seems that the weight has creeped up on them over the years, and despite their best efforts, sustainable weight loss seems to elude them. Frequently the conversation turns to calories, as we have been led to believe that counting them is the key to dropping pounds. In the world of Chinese medicine, however, the idea of caloric content doesn’t really come into play. Instead, what you eat is all about gaining energy–not about losing weight.
Most of the time, the people I see who concerned about their weight are also struggling with poor energy. Some sleep well, but wake up tired. Some wear out over the course of the day, others fluctuate during the day, and still others are just plain exhausted from morning to night. I ask about their energy because in Chinese medicine, energy is the all-important ingredient in moving your body, transforming food into nutrients, protecting you from outside pathogens, keeping you warm, and all the other day-to-day things that you want to do.
When I ask my tired weight-concerned patients what they’re eating, they almost always tell me that they’re eating healthfully–lots of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately they’re eating all those good foods raw, which is only aggravating their poor energy levels. How is their seemingly wonderful diet a problem?
Well, while the ancient Chinese knew that while you derive your energy from the foods you eat, they also knew that it takes a certain amount of energy to digest those foods. For years, I’ve been telling my patients who struggle with fatigue or digestive problems to cook their vegetables and fruits, as they’re easier to digest and it takes far less energy to do so. In addition, I’ve advised them to avoid very cold foods, as their body has to heat the food to body temperature before it can be properly broken down and digested. While this may sound far-fetched, food scientists are now telling us essentially the same thing.
Wait…what? A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, right? Well, technically yes, but according to a recent article in Scientific American*, it turns out the calorie counts you see on food labels are merely estimates. In fact, nutrition scientists are now finding that how much energy you get from your food is far more complicated than we ever thought. The actual caloric content of a particular food can vary, depending on a number of factors.
A little background is in order here. A calorie is a scientific way to measure the amount of energy available in food. A gram of fat provides about nine calories, because it’s easily digested and provides more energy than a gram of protein (four calories), which is harder to digest. In other words, it takes more energy to digest protein, so you give up a little energy in the process of digesting and gain fewer calories. A gram of fiber only gives you about two calories, because it takes even more work, or energy, to digest. A gram of carbohydrate also gives you four calories, but that said, all of these counts are are just approximations.
For example, because heat does some of the work of digestion for us, there are more calories in a cooked food than the same food that is raw. In addition, it takes more of your energy to digest a food with a high fiber content than it does for a food with little fiber. And the bacteria in your gut plays a role too, because it affects how efficiently you digest food–which affects how much energy you extract from what you eat. This means that each person derives a different amount of calories from eating the exact same food!
One of the foundations of Chinese food therapy is that the ideal diet is different for each person. Therefore, a person who is ill or has digestive problems would benefit from a very different diet than a healthy person with good digestion. In Chinese medicine, foods are chosen according to their inherent warmth or coolness and their action on the body. In addition, how foods are cooked or combined also impact how beneficial they are to your body and how much energy they provide. Does this sound familiar?
The bottom line is that the calorie count in foods are not created equal. How you cook a particular food and what your body does to digest it has an impact on how much energy you’ll get from it. So if you’re struggling with fatigue or poor energy, there are ways to get a little more of a boost from what you’re eating.
*Dunn, Rob: Everything You Know about Calories Is Wrong. Scientific American, Sept. 2013 p. 56.
Lynn Jaffee is a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Acupuncture in the Park near Minneapolis, MN. Lynn is also the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health. For more articles staying well, check out her blog at Acupuncture Health Insights.
By Dr. Marin Eisen
Is strenuous exercise necessary for health?
No. Good physical condition is required for competing athletes and does not insure good health. A trained athlete can have cancer and die from a heart attack. Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to have a heart valve replaced. Strenuous exercise produces toxins and free radicals, which can harm the body. Most people do not have enough time to train properly and so rapid movements can injure muscles and joints. Repetitive strain can lead to chronic injuries and disease. Slow, nonstrenuous Qigong can improve your health.
What is Qigong?
The main divisions of modern Qigong (Chi Kung) are: Spiritual, Medical, Martial and Athletic depending on the main goal of the practitioner. However, there is an overlap between these branches.
Medical Qigong is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Qi can be translated as life energy. TCM postulates that health is the result of smooth Qi circulation, without accumulation or deficiency in any part of the body, while disease is the result of poor Qi circulation. Once the flow of Qi is balanced, the body tends to heal itself.
In Chinese “Gong” means work or hard task. Qigong is the task of learning to control the flow of Qi through your body by using breath, movement and meditation. Since you will be taught genuine Qigong, passed down from master to disciple, the only requirement for success is dedication and practice.
Why study Qigong?
Some reasons for studying Qigong are: stress relief, relaxation, mental improvement, preventing and self-healing of diseases, spiritual enlightenment, harmony with nature and developing esoteric powers. It is the key to inner power, stamina and resistance to injury in Chinese Martial Arts. Chinese athletes use it to reach peak performance levels. Qigong can increase longevity and improve the quality of life as one ages.
Another reason is to become a Qigong therapist. Diseases can be treated in two ways. The therapist can prescribe Qigong exercise for a particular disease or he can inject his Qi to treat the disease. In Chinese Qigong hospitals both methods are used simultaneously. A therapist should learn several different Qigong methods in order to treat different diseases and to accommodate patients.
Can athletes, couch potatoes or handicapped people benefit from Qigong?
Yes. They are easy to learn requiring very little coordination. They are suitable for the young, old, strong, weak, and infirm, because they can be practiced standing, seated or lying. No equipment, special clothing or partners are required. There is no restriction on the place or time of their performance.
There are dynamic Qigong exercises that will satisfy the most robust people. Athletes can use Qigong not only to improve their peak performance, but also to speed recovery from strenuous training and ameliorate deleterious effects such as lactic acid build up, free radicals etc.
Individual programs can be constructed to aid recovery from illness or injury. It is has been shown that Qigong plus other forms of therapy (western or TCM) work better than Qigong or therapy alone. Qigong has been shown to help about 200 diseases ranging from th common cold to cancer.
Is Qigong scientific?
Conferences on the scientific study of Qigong have been held in the U.S. and China. Qigong has been shown to improve respiration, induce the relaxation response, cause favorable changes in blood chemistry, and produce changes in EEG indicating improved mental states.
Clinical trials have shown the efficacy of Qigong in reducing stress, delaying aging effects, prolonging life, preventing illness and curing many chronic diseases including paralysis and cancer.
Does Qigong Have Anti-Aging Effects?
Yes. For example, one survey of aged practitioners revealed that they were in good health and appeared younger than a second group of non-practitioners. Their average blood pressure was normal and 93% had normal hearing and good memories. The non-practicing elders had a higher average blood pressure, 25% had hypertension, 50% had vision problems, 76% had hearing problems and 35% had lost their ability to work. After doing Qigong for 5 months, 52% of them recovered some of their working ability and made other physiological improvements.
When being treated by external Qi does the patient have to move or feel it to be cured?
No. Some people feel the effects of the Qi or move. Others do not feel anything and do not move. Both classes of people can benefit. Studies have shown that there is no correlation between the movements of the therapist and the patient.
Can a “Master” inject Qi and open all of your channels to give you powers or permanently improve your health?
Be suspicious of such a claim especially if the “Master” asks for a large sum of money. If you get a bowl of rice today you will feel good, but tomorrow you will feel hungry. The “gong” in Qigong stands for hard work. There is no royal road to learning. A standard recommendation is that you must practice 100 days in a row to obtain some benefit. If you miss one day you must start over, even if that day was the 99th.
How many forms of Qigong are there?
There are about 3000 different forms of Qigong. The different styles can be divided into three classes: medical, martial, and spiritual. These divisions overlap. However, to really become proficient in one branch you must specialize in that type of Qigong. For example, a spiritual practitioner can have developed tremendous amounts of Qi but can still be mediocre in applications to the martial arts.
Is Tai Chi a form of Qigong?
Yes. In the beginning Tai Chi seems to be a physical exercise. Later, with proper instruction, you will realize it is a form of Qigong. Each posture affects certain organs and can be used to heal diseases. After a long time you can feel the effects of your Qi during movements. There are also martial applications of Qi, since Tai Chi is a martial as well as as a healing art. Tai Chi is a very difficult form of Qigong to learn.
Can Qigong be Dangerous
If you have a serious disease, then the proper kind of Qigong must be practiced. Weekly drop in classes offered at medical centers are not much help. For example, if you have cancer you must practice the proper type of Qigong for hours a day. This is difficult for most people. In China, patients are confined to hospitals and made to practice hours every day or join a Qigong group of cancer patients who also practice for hours.
Dr. Marin Eisen
By profession, Dr. Eisen was a university Professor specializing in constructing mathematical models used for studying medical problems such as those in cancer chemotherapy and epilepsy. He has studied Judo, Shotokan Karate, Aikido and Tai Chi. He taught Judo in a community center in Toronto. Dr. Eisen was the founder and chief-instructor of the Shotokan Karate Clubs at Carnegie-Mellon and Dusquene Universities and the University of Pittsburgh.
He has taught Tai Chi at community centers in New Jersey, the Chinese Community School of South Jersey, Temple University, a Master’s Dance Class at Glassboro State College and Triton High School and also Qigong at some of these locations and at Lehigh University.
One of Master Mark’s students introduced him to Master Mark and Praying Mantis. He became a Disciple of Master Mark and taught Praying Mantis at Master Mark’s School in Philadelphia and at Temple University. Now he teaches, Qigong and Tai Chi at the S. Jersey branch of Master Mark’s school.
Master Mark fostered his interest in acupuncture, herbology, Chinese massage and Qigong. He took correspondence courses in Chinese herbology and studied other branches of Chinese medicine with a traditional Chinese medical doctor. Dr. Eisen was the Director of Education of the Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Institute in Upper Darby, P.A.
Dr. Eisen has written many articles on Kung Fu, Qigong, Eastern exercise and Chinese medicine and is a columnist for Yang Sheng magazine. He was nominated for the Black Belt Hall of Fame.
He was honored by the University of Pittsburgh in 2001, on the 35th anniversary of the introduction of Shotokan Karate, as the founder, for contributing to its growth, popularity and also to students’ character development. He was selected as one of the coaches for a world competition of the U.S. Wu Shu team in 2001. Dr. Eisen received meritorious awards from Temple University National Youth Sports program in 1980 and from Camden County College for participation in a student sport program in 1979.
Turmeric, which is also known as Yu Jin in Chinese herbology, has been widely used across the globe for the past 4,000 years. During that time, this herb has gained popularity as a medicinal herb as well as an herb that can be used in cooking. Many studies have been conducted—revealing that turmeric has the ability to alleviate a variety of symptoms and ailments.
From the Chinese perspective, Yu Jin falls into the blood-invigorator category, as it helps to internally regulate blood and can break up stasis. This herb can also be applied topically for pain due to trauma and has the ability to increase the speed of the healing process of chronic sores.
When viewing this herb through the eyes of a Chinese herbologist, there are certain aspects that are important to note. The channels to which the herb travels, the taste and the temperature are critical pieces of information and will help lead an herbalist to either include or exclude it from a formula. With that being said, there are three main meridians that Yu Jin focuses on: the Heart, Lung and Liver. The two tastes associated with this herb are spicy and bitter, and the temperature quality of Yu Jin is cold.
There are four main functions of Yu Jin in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The first function of this herb is to help invigorate the blood, stop pain and promote the movement of Qi while resolving/alleviating constraint. The second function is to clear heat and cool the blood. The third function is to clear the Heart and open the orifices. And the fourth function is to benefit the Gallbladder and reduce jaundice.
Yu Jin can be used for a multitude of symptoms. Some of the conditions for which it’s indicated are anxiety, agitation, seizures, abdominal/flank/menstrual pain, nosebleeds, vomiting of blood, blood in the urine, gallbladder disorders and jaundice.
There is only one main caution and contra-indication for this herb, which is pregnancy. Using this herb is forbidden for women who are in any stage of pregnancy. It is also important to note that the herb Ding Xiang antagonizes Yu Jin and therefore the two should not be combined.
From an Eastern perspective, Yu Jin serves an important role as an herb that can be used both internally and externally for a variety of ailments. While the Traditional Chinese Medical view of this herb does differ slightly from the Western view, it shares a common stance in that it is extremely useful at clearing heat/inflammation. For this one role alone it should be considered essential for any herbal pharmacy.
Bensky, Dan. 2004. Chinese Herbal Medicine – MateriaMedica – 3rd Edition. Eastland Press, Seattle, USA.
Paul Kerzner, L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and owner of Above & Beyond Acupuncture in Scottsdale, AZ. He graduated from the Arizona School of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine with a master’s degree in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine. For more information visit: www.aboveandbeyondacupuncture.com
By Kerry Jenni MS, L.Ac.
When 32% of all US births result in cesarean section, it’s time to look for optimal ways to heal from this experience, physically and emotionally, for the health of mom, baby and family.
A thousand’s of years old concept called Qi is loosely translated to “energy” and it moves and flows throughout our body. A surgery of any kind will impact the flow of Qi. Qi blockage is often felt as numbness, tingling and/or pain and often is the answer to the unexplainable sensations in our bodies that modern Western medicine reports as normal. So what happens to our flow of qi during and after cesarean birth?
Qi stagnation is a common Chinese medical diagnosis during acupuncture treatment. Stagnation can be caused by trauma, overuse, stress, and surgery. If you can imagine a flowing river with a big boulder in the middle of it, causing the water to reroute, this is what happens to our qi when there is a blockage of flow. The solution for long-term relief is to work to slowly and steadily decompose this boulder, while looking up and down stream to prevent any more debris from building up. These rivers of qi occur all over our bodies along lines called meridians. There are 12 regular meridians in the body, though qi can be blocked anywhere in the body. Each of these meridians flows qi within the body and then connects to an internal organ, providing function and health to the organ. The entire meridian is named after the organ it connects and fuels.
The abdomen includes the meridian systems of the spleen, stomach, kidney and the conception vessel (ren). The modern horizontal, “bikini” incision for a cesarean section divides through at least the conception vessel, kidney, and stomach channels, and may include the spleen as well. That is a significant number of meridians considering this incision may be as small as 6 inches. The numbness that often accompanies recovery and may last a lifetime can be explained as the flow of qi not recovering properly in one or multiple of these meridians. Pain at the surgical site needs to be evaluated by a surgeon post c-section. If the surgeon reports all is well, that’s when we take a look at the health of the qi. We also look at flow of qi in the abdomen when a woman is struggling with fertility. Optimizing qi flow is essential for conception.
Modern, Western medicine wants to know how acupuncture works and cannot see qi or meridians on modern imaging systems. They have recognized that acupuncture will speed the recovery post surgery by increasing blood flow to the area of incision, which decreases pain and numbness and reduces scar tissue.
An acupuncture session post cesarean birth can take place as soon as the woman is comfortable enough to get to the office to receive a treatment. In China, acupuncture is currently being used during a c-section for anesthesia (along with pharmaceutical anesthesia) and post operatively immediately after surgery. The sooner the acupuncture can be administered the better. That said, women still have resolution of numbness in the surgical site with acupuncture many years after the birth.
The acupuncture treatment requires small, stainless steel needles both at the surgical site and along the meridians, most likely on the legs and hands. The ear is also an area that may be used in treatment as it is a model, or micro system, of the whole body and can treat the surgical site as well. This works well for women who may not be ready for the surgical site to be directly treated. Adjunctive therapies such as moxibustion may be incorporated as well, which provides heat via burning the herb mugwort to speed up healing. Needles are retained for 20-40 minutes during which time mom may nap and deeply relax. The amount of treatments required varies depending on the severity of the incision and the ability of the patient to rest and heal.
Women preparing for VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) can greatly benefit from using acupuncture to prepare for a subsequent pregnancy and birth. The best time to use acupuncture is prior to becoming pregnant again, which allows the acupuncturists to most effectively treat the uterus and break down scar tissue. Once pregnant, there are benefits to using acupuncture to prepare for VBAC as well. Moxibustion has been proven to turn a breech positioned baby and to optimize baby’s position (breech or posterior) to avoid cesarean section and is helpful in the third trimester.
It is also helpful to see an acupuncturist to prepare for the planned cesarean. An acupuncturist can put small, stainless steel ear balls taped to the outside of your ear. Check with your surgeon, it should be no problem to have these ear balls on your ears during surgery to allow for a more rapid recovery and peaceful surgery.
Acupuncture is also useful for the emotional component of recovering from cesarean birth. Many women hope to avoid surgical interventions with birth. Whether the surgery was planned prior to labor or occurred after days of laboring, women can experience a range of deep emotions after a c-section. Along the midline of the front of the body is a meridian called the conception vessel, one of the extra meridians of the body. It’s partner meridian runs down the spine and is called the governing vessel. The conception vessel is said to originate in the uterus in women. According to Li Shi-Zhen “The conception vessel and the governing vessel are like midnight and midday, they are the polar axis of the body…there is one source and two branches, one goes to the front and the other to the back of the body…When we try to divide these, we see that yin and yang are inseparable. When we try to see them as one, we see that it is an indivisible whole.” When we consider a surgical procedure to the uterus, dividing these essential vessels, it makes sense why women may feel “not whole” afterwards. While talk therapy can be essential and medication necessary for some women, acupuncture can be a vital adjunct to healing the emotional response post cesarean birth. We work to regain balance of these essential meridians, and help the mother, and the family, to feel whole again.
Kerry Jenni MS, L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and mom of two in Montpelier, Vermont and graduate of Bastyr University. Her practice, Integrative Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, aims to help people with all types of pain using traditional Chinese medicine. For more information see www.integrativeaom.com and facebook.com/integrativeaom
By Christopher M. Chapleau
Muscle flexibility, as defined by Zachezeweski (1), “is the ability of a muscle to lengthen, allowing one joint (or more than one joint in a series) to move through a range of motion [ROM]” and a loss of muscle flexibility as “a decrease in the ability of the muscle to deform,” resulting in decreased ROM about a joint. Much literature has been written on the importance of flexibility in normal muscle function, the prevention of injury, and the enhancement of sports performance (2). Good flexibility will allow muscle tissue to adapt to imposed stress more easily and allow efficient and effective movement (4).
In the rehabilitation, physical therapy, and sports medicine settings, many therapists use stretching exercises to improve ROM and function after trauma and periods of immobilization. Better ROM will help prevent injury, and reduce muscle soreness after physical activity (3).
There are many studies that show that the muscle stiffness curve does not change after a 2-4-week stretching program or after 10 minutes of sport stretching (3,5,6). It has been hypothesized that muscle stiffness would diminish and become more flexible if acupuncture therapy was added to the stretching program within this 2-week period. Reducing therapy frequency and achieving quicker more effective results is of great health and economic value.
The purpose of this pilot study is to create a quick and effective, yet safe, way of increasing muscle flexibility with the use of acupuncture and static stretching, as opposed to a static stretching routine alone. Increased ROM of tight hamstring muscles will be attempted within a 2-week period.
Methods of stretching include dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching, static stretching, and variations of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation techniques. Although documentation exists that all forms of stretching will increase the flexibility of muscle, we believe that the most common and safest method is the static stretch (2).
Short, tight muscles that decrease ROM predispose the body to disease, injury, and delayed healing. Although the mechanism(s) of Acupuncture is unclear, it is hypothesized that intramuscular needle stimulation for releasing shortened muscle will decrease pain (or increase pain tolerance) and improve joint range. Treating the muscle with electric needle stimulation may also increase the relaxation of the entire muscle.
To date, no objective study has examined the effects of acupuncture therapy with the use of static stretching to better increase flexibility of the hamstring muscle. In addition, no research has been conducted to show that acupuncture will decrease the frequency of a static stretch routine necessary to achieve efficient results.
There existed 4 criteria for participation in the study. First, each subject agreed to volunteer and complete the 2 weeks of training. Second, the subjects could not have any recent or chronic pathology to the hip, knee, thigh, or lower back. Third, each subject had to exhibit tight hamstring muscles, operationally defined as having greater than 15 loss of knee extension measured with the femur held at 90 of hip flexion. Finally, subjects not involved in any exercise activity at the start of the study had to agree to avoid lower extremity exercise, and those already involved in a regular exercise program agreed not to increase exercise intensity or frequency throughout the 2 weeks (4).
6 subjects (4 men and 3 women) with the mean age of 27.33 years met the established criteria and completed the study. All subjects signed an institutional approved informed consent statement prior to data collection.
Measurements were performed using a double-armed, full circle protractor (True Angle Goniometer, Novel Products, Inc.) made of transparent plastic. The protractor measured degrees in 1 increments. To ensure appropriate reliability, the goniometer was modified by taping 12 inch wooden ruler extensions to its arms. This increased the length of the arms to 43 cm (17 inches). The rationale for adding the extensions was that, in doing so, the distance between the protractor arm and the marked bony landmarks was decreased. The extensions allowed for the preservation of accurate measurement of hamstring flexibility while decreasing measurement time (2 & 4).
Prior to assignment to group, each subject who met the criteria for inclusion in the study was measured for flexibility of the right hamstring muscle (arbitrarily chosen). Subjects were positioned supine with the right hip and knee flexed to 90 . In this position, the leg landmarks were marked with a felt tip pen. The Landmarks were: the greater trochanter of the femur, the lateral malleolus and the lateral epicondyle of the femur. During measurement, one researcher positioned the right hip in 90 degrees of hip flexion. A second researcher passively moved the tibia to terminal position of knee extension. This was defined as the point at which the subject complained of a feeling of discomfort or to the point that the researcher perceived resistance to the stretch. Once the terminal position of the knee extension was reached, the first researcher measured the amount of knee extension with the goniometer. Zero degrees was considered to be full knee extension. No warm-up prior to data collection was allowed (2). The same examiner made all the measurements for the entire study.
Subjects were randomly assigned to one of two groups following the initial measurement of hamstring flexibility. Subjects assigned to Group 1 (N = 2 men, 1 women; X age = 33) were given 1 acupuncture treatment and stretched five times a week for 2 weeks. Group 1 had a total of 2 acupuncture treatments each spaced seven days apart. Group 1 performed static hamstring stretches by standing erect with the left foot on the floor and pointing straight ahead with no rotation in the hip. The right hamstring muscles were stretched by placing the right heal on an elevated surface with the knee fully extended, toes pointed to the ceiling, no rotation of the hip, and arms flexed to shoulder level. The elevated surface was high enough to cause a gentle stretch sensation in the posterior thigh. The subject then flexed forward from the hip, maintaining the spine in neutral position (back straight), while reaching the arms forward until a gentle stretch was felt (2,4). Once this position was achieved, the stretch was held for 30 seconds. This was repeated 3 times with 15 seconds of rest between each stretch. This stretch was performed on their own 5 times during the week for two weeks.
Group 2 (N = 2 men, 1 women; X age = 31.6) performed the same static stretch protocol 5 days a week for 2 weeks. They did not receive acupuncture treatments.
Each subject was given a sheet of paper with the stretch protocol and also given a demonstration of the stretch.
After 2 weeks, all subjects were retested using the same procedures described in the initial testing.
Values are given as Mean + SEM (n=3). Data were analyzed by unpaired Student’s t-test and one-way ANOVA followed by Tukey’s post hoc test. Values between the two groups differed significantly at *p < 0.001.
Based on the results, motor point acupuncture with a static stretch routine performed every week for 2 weeks shows a statistically significant difference in hamstring ROM between the two groups at p < 0.001.
This pilot study was an initial experiment into a study I feel could be extremely beneficial to the health of many. Time and money are strong determinants in the character of a study. However, considering these obvious limitations as a student, the following are also considerations into future studies of this nature:
• This study was limited to the effects of treating the hamstring muscle.
• Other acupuncture techniques, procedures/protocols and points may be more effective. Such as: use of moxabustion; needling the antagonist muscle group, auricular acupuncture, etc.
• Increase acupuncture treatment frequency.
• Type of stretch and treatment frequency per week may be changed to be more effective.
• Supervise and observe stretch routine to ensure that it is performed correctly.
• Increase study duration to 4 weeks.
• Have a “sham” acupuncture group to “blind” the subjects.
• “Blind” the examiner taking the pretest and posttest measurements. The examiner would be unaware of what group each subject is in.
• Use a much larger population.
• Age can be a factor
The Acupuncture Protocol from a Western Medical Perspective
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), needling a patient and giving them a balancing treatment, often helps alleviate the pain. However, in many cases, the pain may come back due to a muscle imbalance problem that offsets the body’s biomechanical alignment. The Musculoskeletal system is like a pulley and lever system in which the key to structural balance is in an equal pull by the opposing muscle groups located on each side of the joint. An imbalance between the forces, from an adaptive shortening on the one side, to a stretch weakness on the other, usually results in a difference of range of motion. The discordance between the antagonist and agonist muscle groups predisposes the musculoskeletal system to injury and soreness (7).
The zone of muscle innervation is normally found centrally along the muscle fibers where it has the best advantage for mechanical efficiency to affect the entire muscle by the innervating nerve fibers (7). Therefore, the most effective sites for needle insertion to release short, tight bands of muscle are deep to the motor point at the muscle zone of innervation where the most electrical influence of the entire muscle can be obtained (7).
Acupuncture to the motor points seems to “reset” the dysfunctioning muscle spindle that is causing abnormal muscle function and reflexive spasm (that may be elicited by the needle). The acupuncture needle is one of the best somatic therapy modalities to use, as it releases muscle shortening quickly and accurately when inserted into a motor point (7).
Points located .5 to 1 inch along either side of the spine between spinous processes of lumbar 4 to sacral foreman 2 where needled. The Chinese name for these points are called Huatuo Jia Ji points. The concept behind needling these points from a western perspective is that they will stimulate the particular spinal nerve roots that innervate the hamstring muscle regions. The idea is to facilitate these segments and viserosomatic reflexes that affect pathological change of the spinal nerve and all the tissues supplied at that level. The paraspinal muscles that support this area between L-4 and S-2 may be short and tight creating pressure on the disk and nerve root. These muscles pull the adjacent vertebrae together which impedes the nerve impulse, thus creating muscle imbalance (7).
Motor Point Locations: Biceps femoris- 3 motor points:
1) Short head – 5 cun directly superior from UB 38.
2) Long head -
a. 1 cun lateral from UB 37.
b. 1-1.5 cun inferior and slightly lateral from UB 37
Semitendinosus- 2 motor points:
1) 2 cun medial and superior from UB 37
2) 2 cun medial and 1 cun inferior from UB 37
Semimembranosus- 1 motor point:
1) 6 cun superior from K 10
Motor Points = Black Xs
UB Points = Red dots
* Cun = Chinese term for an anatomical measurement unit which is proportional to each individual (1 cun is approximately 1 inch +/- 1/3 inch).
Hamstring Muscle Static Stretch Protocol
Standing hamstring stretch:
Stand erect with the left foot on the floor and pointing straight ahead with no rotation in the hip. Next place the heal of your right foot on an elevated surface with the knee fully extended, toes pointed to the ceiling, no rotation of the hip, and arms flexed to shoulder level. The elevated surface should be high enough to cause a gentle stretch sensation in the posterior thigh. Now flex forward from the hip and maintain the spine in neutral position (back straight). Gradually increase the intensity of the stretch, by leaning forward more, until discomfort (not pain) in the hamstrings is felt. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times with 15 seconds of rest between each stretch. Do this stretch 5 times during the week for two weeks.
Make sure that your muscles are warm. Do this stretch inside a warm house or after you’ve taken a warm shower. Please do not exercise or do any extra stretching during the next 3 weeks. If you do exercise please do not change your routine (workout frequency, duration, intensity, or exercise mode). Specially avoid lower extremity exercises.
The purpose of this controlled, randomized pilot study is to create a quick and effective, yet safe, way of increasing muscle flexibility with the use of motor point (MP) acupuncture and static stretching, as opposed to a static stretching routine alone.
Increased ROM of tight hamstring muscles will be attempted within a 2-week period. 6 subjects (4 men and 3 women) with the mean age of 28.20 years met the established criteria and completed the study. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of 2 groups:
Subjects assigned to Group1 were given 1 MP acupuncture treatments and performed a static stretch five times a week for 2 weeks. Group 2 performed the static stretch routine 5 days a week for 2 weeks. They did not receive acupuncture treatments. Means and standard deviations were calculated for the pretest and posttest measurements for each group, as well as the mean difference between pretest and posttest scores, for the dependent variable knee extension ROM in degrees. Based on the results, motor point acupuncture with a static stretch routine performed every week for 2 weeks does statistically show a significant difference in hamstring ROM between the two groups at p< 0.001.
The Effects of Motor Point Acupuncture and Static Stretch on the Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles By Christopher M. Chapleau
Chris Chapleau, M.S., L.Ac., is a practicing Acupuncturist as well as an M.S. Human Performance. With an advanced degree in (Western), B.S. Health Science, Chris combines Western knowledge & Eastern practice to help you to be productive and energetic to meet the demands of your daily life. Besides the traditional Eastern approach with acupuncture, Chris also takes a Western biomedical approach to using acupuncture; trigger point therapy, manual and movement therapy.
His experience training himself and others for triathlons, bike racing, MMA & similarly demanding athletic endeavors uniquely prepares him to assist serious athletes in realizing top performance while preserving peak immune function & general good health.
Specializing in acupuncture and exercise science: Integrate acupuncture into pre and/or post physical therapy or fitness training for pain modulation, speedy recovery and enhanced performance. Clients can choose to just focus on one-on-one exercise therapy/ training, acupuncture, or a combination of both. Other modalities that I use in therapy are: acu-taping, manual body work (structural integration), herbal therapy (MediHerb), nutrition supplementation (Standard Process), cupping, guasha, and stretching techniques (mobilization, PNF, and distraction).
The exercise component is one-on-one fitness management; focusing on strength & conditioning, post physical rehab – exercise therapy, sport specific plyometrics, weight loss, core strengthening, and functional training.
The acupuncture component focuses on sport injuries, myofascial pain, peripheral neuropathy, arthritis, facial rejuvenation, stress, smoking cessation, addiction detoxification program, weight management, and sport recovery & performance.
I am the official acupuncturist and strength coach for Cannondale/fushionThink’s Stage 1 Cycling Team. CSAOM Board Member.
1 Zachezeweski. “Improving flexibility.” Physical Therapy. Philadelphia, Pa: JB Lippincott Co; 1989.
2 Bandy, Irion, Briggler. “The Effect of Time and Frequency of Static Stretching on Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles.” Physical Therapy. Vol. 77, Number 10, October 1997.
3 Halbertsma, Mulder, Goeken, Eisma. “Repeated Passive Stretching: Acute Effect on the Passive Muscle Moment and Extensibility of Short Hamstrings.” Arch Phys Med Rehabil. Vol 8, April 1999.
4 Bandy, Irion, Briggler. “The Effect of Static Stretch and Dynamic Range of Motion Training on the Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles.” JOSPT. Vol. 27, Number 4, April 1998.
5 Halbertsma, Goeken. “Stretching exercises: effect on passive extensibility and stiffness in short hamstrings of healthy subjects.” Arch Phys Med Rehabil. Vol 75, 1994.
6 Halbertsma, Goeken. “:Sport stretching: effect on passive muscle stiffness of short hamstrings.” Arch Phys Med Rehabil. Vol 77, 1996.
7 Callison. Motor Point Manual. Raymert Press, Inc. 2000.
8 Jaeger, Skootsky. “Double blind, controlled study of different myofasial trigger point injection techniques.” Abstract. Pain 4. Suppl S292, 1987.
9 O’Connor, Bensky. Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Text. Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1981.
10 Liao, Lee. Principles and Practice of Contemporary Acupuncture. New York: M. Decker, 1994.
By Genevieve Boyer, R.Ac., B.Sc., FABORM
How Essence (Jing) affects our fertility and overall health and how to best conserve it, incorporating some modern research into epigenetics as well.
In Traditional Oriental Medicine each one of us is considered to have our own unique Essence (capitalized to signify the Traditional Oriental Medicine meaning). This Essence is acquired at birth, and refers to more than simply “the intrinsic properties that serve to characterize something,” which is the definition you would get from looking up “essence” in the English dictionary.
Though there is no direct Western equivalent to the Eastern concept of Essence, this Essence does refer, in part, to our genetic heritage. Pre-natal (before birth) Essence is acquired from our parents at the time of our conception, and Post-natal (after birth) Essence is derived from the quality of foods that we eat and our ability to properly absorb and assimilate them. We inherit a fixed amount of Pre-natal Essence, which becomes depleted throughout the course of our lifetime. When Pre-natal Essence is exhausted, we die. Post-natal Essence, on the other hand, is continually renewed, and helps to determine the rate at which our Pre-natal Essence gets used up. The more Post-Natal Essence we have, the more it benefits the quality and longevity of our Pre-Natal Essence.
Though in Western medicine our genetic material isn’t considered to get “used up” in the same way that is described by Eastern traditional doctors for Pre-natal Essence, there is nonetheless some support in Western research for the idea that there are limitations on the length of time in which genetic information can be properly expressed. In a recent article in New Scientist1, which describes what scientists have learned from studying the body of a healthy 115-year-old woman after she died, researchers describe finding that two-thirds of the white blood cells in her body at the time of her death originated from just two stem cells (scientists estimate that we are born with 20,000 blood stem cells and that at any time at least 1000 are concurrently active producing blood cells, so to have the majority of her blood cells originate from just two stem cells is quite amazing!). Another thing that researchers found was that the telomeres (the protective ends on chromosomes) of her blood cells were worn down, which is typically associated with aging. Longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and greater longevity, whereas shorter telomeres are associated with many aging-related diseases. Interestingly, a small pilot study2 suggests that length of telomeres can be positively affected by diet, exercise and stress management techniques. Both stem cells and telomeres are directly related to the extent to which our genetic material can express itself.
Why is Essence Important?
Giovanni Maciocia, an authority in the field of Traditional Oriental Medicine says that our Essence “determines growth, reproduction, development, sexual maturation, conception, pregnancy, menopause and aging.”3 In children, it also “controls the growth of bones, teeth, hair, normal brain development and sexual maturation.”3 So the influence of Essence is far-reaching and central to healthy development, reproduction and aging. Clinically, benefiting Essence can be important in the treatment of children’s developmental conditions, fertility and reproductive medicine, neurodegenerative conditions, immune deficiency syndromes, conditions related to aging, and more.
Some people are born with stronger Pre-natal Essence and have a stronger constitution, and other people are born with weaker Pre-natal Essence and are more vulnerable to environmental influences. This explains in part why some people can get away with overeating, overconsumption of alcohol, poor sleep habits or higher stress lifestyles with fewer immediate repercussions than others—they have stronger Pre-natal Essence and are inherently more resilient, to an extent (it does eventually catch up with them). Comparatively, someone with a weaker constitution will have to be more careful about having moderation in eating, drinking, sleeping and lifestyle. But ultimately, everyone can benefit from knowing how to conserve and optimize their Essence. Conserving our Essence can result in not only longer lives but also more fulfilling, health-filled lives as well.
So How Do We Best Conserve our Essence?
So if our Post-natal Essence, the Essence we derive from the foods that we eat, benefits our Pre-natal Essence, then how do we optimize it? Of course, eating a balanced diet with a variety of good quality (unrefined, preferably organic) foods is so important—it is hard for our bodies to extract the nutrients it needs from highly refined or chemical-laden foods. But the health of our digestive systems is also important—our bodies need to be able to extract the nutrients from the foods that we are eating.
So what can we do to optimize the health of our digestive systems? Well, the digestive system likes regularity, so it is important to eat on a regular basis, typically every three or four hours. And overloading our digestive systems with too much food at any given meal is also counter-productive. So skipping breakfast and/or lunch and then overeating at suppertime is not conducive to a healthy digestive system. Excessive sugars or too much cold, raw food (for example ice cream which is both cold and sweet) can also tax our digestive systems.
That said, even when doing everything right in terms of diet, people can still show signs of digestive weakness such as loose stools, gassy digestion, bloating, constipation, fatigue after meals, etc., which may be due to life stress or constitutional weaknesses. If someone is eating a healthy diet and has signs of digestive weakness, it is important to come in for acupuncture or herbal therapy treatment to strengthen the digestive system.
What else influences the quality and longevity of our Essence? Finding the right balance between work, rest and play is important. In our culture, we tend to work hard and play hard, but often we put a low priority on resting, and adequate rest is essential to the conservation of our Essence. One of my mentors defines rest as not only putting our feet up or getting enough shut-eye at night, but also to having unscheduled “free time” in our busy lives when we can do whatever we would find rejuvenating in the moment, whether it is going for a walk outside, engaging in art or other creative activities, baking, gardening, doing yoga, meditation, or other activities that benefit the soul and bring us pleasure. Also, exercises such as Qigong and Tai Chi have traditionally been used to enhance health and promote longevity.
Why is Essence Particularly Relevant for Parents and Couples Trying to Conceive?
The state of the parents’ Essence at the time of conception strongly influences the Pre-Natal Essence of the child, which we have seen can be very influential to their overall health. I often remind couples who are trying to conceive that by taking care of themselves and their basic physical and emotional needs, they are enhancing their chances of conception and benefiting their unborn children. In fact, modern research is finding that a woman’s diet before pregnancy influences gene expression in the early stages of embryonic development that can affect their susceptibility to certain diseases later in life4,5.
Also, when parenting our children, it is important to establish good life habits early, so that children can learn to conserve their Essence through good diet, adequate sleep, appropriate exercise, and by learning to manage their emotions in a positive, productive way.
3. Maciocia, Giovanni. 2005. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. Churchill Livingston, Philadelphia, USA.
Author Bio: Genevieve Boyer is a Registered Acupuncturist in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and is also a Fellow of the American Board for Oriental Reproductive Medicine. She enjoys educating the public about how Traditional Oriental Medicine wisdom can help people to live better, healthier, more productive lives. You can visit her website at wholefamilyhealth.ca