Despite Oriental Medicine’s 5000+ history, there is no established protocol for the treatment of allergies. Actually, there is no term for ‘allergy’ in the Orient, as this illness has only recently become epidemic, spreading across all nations and cultures. While continuing my studies in Korea, I asked one of my teachers to share his thoughts on the subject. He said that allergies are a sign of the times, comparing them to how most of us deadbolt our front door or lock our car when parked even for a short time. We live in a world where our guard is always up, ready to ‘fight’ at any time. This has an effect on our “Wei Qi” or defensive energy, otherwise known in the West as the immune system. The Wei Qi forms a protective shield within and around us, circulated fifty times during the day and fifty times at night, constantly monitoring against intruders.
A consistent lack of feeling safe and calm, will cause the body to stimulate the Wei Qi shield, pretty much all the time. When this shield is engaged, it commonly produces phlegm in an attempt to ‘wash’ away and cleanse the body from bacteria or impending viruses. However, if the Wei Qi is constantly on high alert, it may produce excess phlegm, making a nice place for an ambitious strand of bacteria to park itself and cause further trouble. Without a chance to rest, the fatigued Wei Qi system loses sight of who is friend or foe and eventually attacks itself.
Living in balance is not just a luxury, but a necessity. If we cannot find inner peace at work or home, then our yearning for it will turn against us. A lack of balance may not always be the result of having a nasty boss, or a nagging spouse, it is often the inability to calm our own spirit, breath, and develop a frame of mind that is not easily influenced by the chaos of daily life. As an allergy sufferer myself, I could not believe at first how effective it was to simply take deep breaths and tell myself to stay calm even at the dentist or other potentially stressful situations. The more I engaged in this practice, the more layer upon layer of anxiety and stress I realized there was hidden within me! It is difficult for us to improve or tackle something we cannot see with our eyes. Wei Qi cannot protect us from something that it cannot fight, such as anxiety or stress.
Wei Qi is entirely dependent on the lungs in order to carry out its function. Thus, healthier lungs contribute to a healthier immune system and the ability to avoid colds and other externally induced illnesses. As the outermost organ, the lungs influence, and are affected by, our interaction with others. Issues such as the loss of a friend or an argument with our boss often produce excess sadness, grief, or anger, which is instrumental in triggering a cold or allergy attack.
Eliminating foods and avoiding those who make us feel threatened is certainly one way of reducing the chance for allergies to occur. If the source of an allergy can be avoided, this approach, at least temporarily, may be the simplest and most effective answer. In most situations however, simply avoiding a certain food or negative situation cannot ensure an allergy-free existence. The immune system is so sophisticated that it tends to react to allergens which even vaguely resemble a previous attack. Moreover, our Wei Qi may remain on high alert after an initial allergic reaction, enhancing our sensitivity to just about everything! With so many potential allergy triggers out there it is easy to get overwhelmed, give up, or avoid otherwise pleasant situations altogether.
According to Oriental Medicine, promoting inner balance is the first step in any healing process. It is based on the belief that OUR reaction to the environment determines its effect on the mind and body. Broccoli, for example, may be easy to digest for some, but for others it may cause bloating and/or diarrhea. Broccoli, itself, isn’t unhealthy, but we may react to it in an unbalanced way. Acupuncture and Oriental herbal medicine focus on balancing Wei Qi and promoting its smooth and rhythmical flow throughout the body, helping us stay balanced when allergy and stress producing situations come our way. Hence, there is no particular treatment for each specific allergy, but instead, specific acupuncture points that support the lungs, digestive system, or other area of the body where disharmony is prone to occur. Since we all respond differently to our environment, treatment with Oriental Medicine is fine-tuned according to the unique emotional and physical requirements of the individual.
About the Author:
Gary Wagman, Ph.D., L.Ac., is an acupuncturist and doctor of Oriental Medicine. He was the first foreign student at the Daejeon University of Oriental Medicine in South Korea and lived in Asia for more than 8 years.
The founder of Harmony Clinic and the American Institute of Korean Medicine, he lives in West Linn, Oregon. Further information about Gary Wagman can be found at harmonyclinics.com and sasangmedicine.com.