Understanding Eastern Medicine with Amy Chen
BY SOPHIE CHUNG
From Yin to Yang and Jing to Chi and Shen; if you’re into a holistic approach to life, you’ll want to bookmark this for the rest of eternity.
7 JUL - 2021
Here’s more than the 101 on how to listen to your body and live a life of zen.
When a certain shitty Uber driver crashed into a parked car with myself as his passenger, I was crippled with whiplash for over two months - scrap that, it’s been four months and my back is not the same -*flips two birds.* During the first week, I couldn’t move. Although I’m not a huge fan of Western medicine, Diclofenac (anti-inflammatory), Norflex (muscle relaxant) and Codeine worked a charm for my acute condition. However, I could tell it wasn’t particularly great for my liver, kidneys or gut when I started breaking out like I was 14 years old again and had under eye bags like an absolute druggo.
I was super pissed off during week two and three following the crash. My body was stiff and sore and I felt like a useless sack of crap. Whenever I sat down at my desk for over half an hour, my neck, shoulders and back would seize up to the point where I would have to can everything and lie back down with a wheatie bag.
It wasn’t all bad though. If you’re into the concept of the universe coming through to provide what we need, meeting Amy Chen from Origin’s Acupuncture was one of those moments.
Because of my parents, I always received acupuncture as my primary treatment whenever I had a sprain as a kid. I used to jump off fences and trees and anything that was climbable with height and so, my ankles would sprain itself quite often. Isn’t it so strange that some children have the compelling need to jump off things to test the boundaries of their bodies? Curiosity trumps everything at this age, including the fear of pain.
This time, as a fully grown 29 year old woman who absolutely detests all forms of bodily pain, I felt the need to return to my Eastern roots to alleviate said pain immediately. I just wanted to feel better and be able to move freely again. I guess this is what it feels like to lose your youth and limber ways. With that said, I’m so glad I’m nearly done with my 20’s. I wholeheartedly care less about… everything - and it’s great.
Acupuncture and cupping works like voodoo magic on acute muscle pain, especially moving and wet cupping. Following my first cupping experience, the stiffness I battled with for weeks was instantly lifted off my shoulders. I felt relieved of immense pressure and also felt a high following my appointment. Some people call it acu-drunk, I call it acu-high. It’s hard to describe but it kind of feels like you took half a Xanax. IFYKYK.
With Eastern medicine becoming more and more trendy in the Western world, it seemed only right to force Amy to answer an array of questions to explain how it all works. She glazed over the principles with me and dropped many words I don’t understand over the course of many appointments, so in an effort to educate as well as satiate my curiosity, we’re going to do a bit of a deep dive on Eastern medicine in this article with more to come.
Sophie: What are the primary principles of Eastern medicine? How does everything link between our sleep cycles, our energy and health of our organs?
Amy: The main principle of Eastern medicine is established through the idea that us
humans are closely connected with nature, we are in unison with the universe between heaven and earth. The human body is considered to be a micro-universe with every organ in our body being interconnected. And so, to live healthily, we need to understand the principles of nature and how to live in balance to achieve better health.
In Eastern medicine, we also believe that our body has the ability to heal itself - as long as we live according to the principles of nature and maintain balance within our physical body and be in harmony within our mind and spirit. We talk about the balance between Yin - energy for rest, nourishment and repairing; Yang - energy for movement, growth, development and function; the five elements of nature - including seasons, food, different flavours, sound, colours, emotions, and different aspect of our spirits etc.,; and the bodily organs - from primary organs to orifices of our body. These all correspond to nature’s elements and are interrelated - the nature of supporting and nurturing one another as well as counteracting one another for balance.
There are three things that are considered to be the treasures of Eastern medicine: jing (essence), chi (energy) and shen (mind and spirit). Chi is one of the primary substances in our body. Chi is the yang energy, the energy that promotes movement and function in our body. With the flow of chi, it brings along the flow of blood, fluid and essences to nourish different parts of our body, including our mind and spirit. Without chi, we wouldn’t be breathing, and our body organs wouldn’t be able to function and bring about nourishment to each part of our body.
Then, the chi flows along a certain pathway in our body (same idea as the planets having to rotate in a certain pathway to keep everything in order and prevent collision and cause chaos, or having to drive within the lanes on the road to prevent disorder and car crashes) - what we call the Jing Luo (meridian pathways). The meridians are the main pathways where the chi communicates between organs and links them together, so each organ has chi, and has its own characteristic of how it functions. We say that when the chi is obstructed, then there will be pain, and overtime, illnesses will occur; when the qi is deficient, it would affect the way the organs function and coordinate. When the chi of a certain organ is in disorder (either obstructed/stagnant or deficient), it would over time, affect another organ and result in another to either be overpowering or to be weakened too.
In Eastern medicine, there is a biological clock where the chi in each meridian is at its peak, and doing the work with its full power (also considering the transition between the yin and yang). The clock is based on a 24 hour time period, and each organ corresponds to a two-hour interval when it’s most abundant and strong. The Eastern medicinal bio clock explains how the body functions at particular times of day, in order to maintain our wellness and fight disease. The TCM body clock tells us when it is best to eat, sleep and exercise, among many other things.
The clock starts from 3 am at our lung hour, where it is responsible for respiration (breathing), then followed by the large intestine for elimination and excretion, then taking in food in the stomach and breaking it down for nutrients in the spleen., etc.
The first 12 hours involve the organs that are active to help us have a productive day, then the day starts to wind down and our activity supposedly becomes less. This is the 12 hour period where our body organs are primarily restoring, protecting, repairing and balancing the body.
Eastern medicinal practitioners would often recommend patients to sleep by 11pm or at the latest by 12am, because between 11pm to 1 am is the gallbladder hour interval, which has a strong influence on the quality and length of sleep. Plus, the gallbladder and the liver are paired organs which help to excrete biles, remove toxins in the body via metabolism. Then between 1am to 3am is the liver hour, where the liver has the primary function of governing the flow of qi and storing blood.
Therefore, it is important to be sleeping so your gallbladder and liver can do its work and allow your body to recover and repair. On a side note, liver controls anger and resentment, while gallbladder controls decisiveness in terms of emotions, so when you sleep after 12am (lack of sleep during this time interval) and your liver and gallbladder don’t get to do its work properly, usually you’d find yourself become indecisive or making poor decisions as well as feeling edgy and easily irritated.
Another main reason to be asleep by 12am is because that is when the yin energy is at its peak, gradually transitioning into yang energy for movement and activity at sunrise. So if you sleep after 12am, the yin won’t be able to be nourished and in turn, the yang energy for movement and activity will be sluggish and weak, thus affecting your energy and productivity for the rest of the day, or longer over time.
I must go to bed by 10.30pm - noted. Can you explain what cupping is and how it works? Why is it so effective on acute muscle pain?
Cupping is a treatment method that involves placing vacuum suction cups on the skin, which is similar to a deep tissue massage. Ancient practitioners used bamboo segments and created the vacuum suction by using heat; later on, ceramic and glass cups were used for cupping treatments, and in modern days, plastic rubber cups are more commonly used to prevent burns on clients.
The motion of the vacuum suction over the skin accelerates circulation to the local area and stimulates the muscle. While releasing the vacuum suction, it will release muscle tension at the same time. Overall, this will help to increase blood flow, get rid of coldness in the body, promote lymph circulation and relieve swelling, improve respiratory conditions, and relieve muscle tension. This treatment method may be used on any local areas, except the abdominal areas.
There are two other alternative treatments of cupping. One of which is commonly known as ‘moving cupping’ involves sliding the applied vacuum suction cup over the skin, which is often on the back along the shoulders, scapula and both sides along the spine. The purpose of doing moving cupping is to achieve a detox effect and remove any congestion within the body.
The other method of cupping is called ‘wet cupping,’ which is actually categorized under the method of ‘bloodletting’ treatments in eastern medicine. Sounds scary right? This is a very good treatment that is decided by the practitioner depending on the patient's condition after consultation, in order to resolve blood stasis, dispel heat, relieve pain or remove toxins inside the body. It sounds scary, but it doesn’t hurt as bad as it sounds. Wet cupping usually involves using a disposable lancet (small prick like that of a diabetes blood test) or microhyperdemic needle to prick the skin and induce bleeding, then place a vacuum suction cup over it to encourage blood flow from the area.
This method of cupping can treat conditions such as heat stroke, skin conditions, chronic health conditions (such as high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, stroke, cancer, high cholesterol level, any more more) or an acute sprain too!
Usually after a cupping treatment, a pink-reddish to a dull-purplish coloured circular mark from the cupping may appear on the skin, or coloured rash like marks - this is called “sha”, meaning petechiae in english, which are tiny red to purple spots. (The term “sha” is actually the same as the sha in Guasha, which is originally used in eastern medicinal treatment to achieve a medicinal therapeutic effect, and not (just) in facial routines that have become common to the beauty industry nowadays). The coloured marks on the skin reflect the person's health condition. It usually fades away after 4-5 days for most people, however, marks can last 7-10 days for people who are prone to bruising.
After cupping (no matter which type), you may often find yourself feeling slightly sore and achy, similar to a bruised kind of feeling, for 1-2 days, much like after a deep tissue massage, but you would feel better than before after that. This is all a part of the healing process, of promoting blood circulation and detoxification. The soreness isn’t extreme and won’t limit or affect your everyday tasks or activities.
What can you read about someone’s health through cupping? What could you read about my health after my first appointment?
Yes! I’ve got two diagrams here to show what the coloured marks indicate for your health condition, and also what each area corresponds to for when you do cupping on the back (which is very common - similar to face mapping in a facial treatment, but cupping on the back and observing the cupping marks is a form of health mapping too!)
Different areas on our back are various acupressure back shu points along our bladder meridian that pertain to certain zang fu organs - shown in the first diagram.
There are 12 Back Shu points (Paravertebral Reflex points) on the bladder channel that corresponds to each of the 12 organs inside our body. They are each named for an organ or body part and have the same diagnostic relationship with those parts as the Alarm points have with the organs. These points are often used to treat chronic conditions and back pains.
The upper part is our lung, the respiratory organ, leveled with the third thoracic spinous process, followed by the pericardium (fourth thoracic spinous process) and heart (fifth spinous process). These areas are done in cupping to help relieve any respiratory conditions, such as treating hay fever, asthma or coughing; any sleeping problems or mental health conditions. After the heart, is the liver (ninth thoracic spinous process) and gallbladder (tenth thoracic spinous process - often related with emotional stress, and sleep too), then our spleen (11th thoracic spinous process) and stomach (12th thoracic spinous process) for digestion on the mid-lower thoracic area, followed by the kidney, intestines on the lumbar area of our spine and our reproductive organs (uterus/ovary/prostate) and bladder in our sacrum levels.
Grey/ faint pink: Excess cold or deficient chi (energy) and blood
Pink: healthy circulation
Pink with water vapor on the surface of the skin or inside the cupping: There is excess dampness inside the body.
Bright Red: There is excess heat within the body
Purplish Dim Red: the chi and blood circulation is poor leading to chi stagnation and blood stasis over time.
Dark purplish red with dark purplish red spots or bumps on skin: accumulated toxins within the body.
I remember when I first did cupping on you, your cupping marks showed a lot of stagnant chi and blood stasis in the body! The marks had a lot of darkish purplish red colours. These have accumulated and developed over time from emotional stress. Concluded with other symptoms you have experienced, there was quite a bit of deficient energy and too much blood stasis in the body, which requires regular maintenance to help your body to recover back to balance. However, a positive and proactive mentality (which you possess!) is always the first step to success for better wellbeing already, and I love that you have the proactiveness and awareness for this!
Why is it so important for us to drop the crop tops and ensure our feet, back and belly are kept warm?
There’s an ancient eastern medicinal saying, "Life thrives in the warmth, life ceases in the cold”.
Our feet are where most of the meridian pathways are located and have about 66 acupressure points. This is why they are so vital for our Qi and blood circulation and are also known as the second heart of the body.
Ancient physicians believed that “coldness causes a variety of diseases which begins from the coldness invading the soles of our feet.” From this saying, we can understand that when our feet are cold, the local circulation becomes poor, resulting in our immune level to decrease further, causing a variety of diseases. We can verify this theory from the practice of reflexology treatments.
On another note, the yin meridians located on the leg all begin from the feet, where as the yang meridians end at the feet, and for this reason, the feet are often cold and hard to warm up, which is common among women and the elderly, or those with yang qi deficiency. The three yin meridians on the feet enter and connect to different and primary Zang organs (organs that are considered to be yin in nature) including spleen, liver and kidney; these are key organs for women’s health and reproductive system such as premenstrual syndrome, period regularity, fertility or hormonal balance.
Now that we are in the winter season and the climate is becoming cold, it’s important to always wear socks, do acupressure massage daily, or use foot baths or our lomoji medicinal bath soaks that we stock in the clinic and online, to keep your feet warm. This will thereby warm your body up also for stronger immunity and regular menstruation cycle!
What are some simple tips and lifestyle changes you recommend for a healthier body?
Other than the self-care ritual practices mentioned above:
always drink warm water (I always recommend my clients who prefer cold water to start off with lukewarm water- by adding a little bit of boiled water to their room temperature water).
Be asleep by midnight (12am) to nourish your yin (fundamental substances for nourishing and moistening your organ tissues, and skin too!)
Make sure to have breakfast between 7-9am as that’s when the vital chi in your body is moving into the stomach meridian, therefore working its hardest during that hour!
Other than making sure to have breakfast (actually, it’s good to have regular meals throughout the day at 70% fullness. Don’t overeat! It’ll stress your stomach and spleen out!), almost always make sure to eat warm cooked food rather than cold refrigerated food and drinks, especially first thing in the morning. The idea is similar to warming up your engine before starting your car up for better maintenance!
Try to include a wide range of food with different colours and tastes (each of the 5 elements have a different colour and our body organs also belong to an element, so this will help us to achieve a balanced well-being with a balanced diet by including different vegetables in our meals!)
I can introduce a few of the herbal foods next time to have as tea or you can add in your food to help nourish your well-being.
Last but not least, exercise regularly! It doesn’t have to be full-on workouts, but at least a 20min walk each day would help to benefit the body.