Why can’t I eat a salad?

“Don’t eat cold salads.” “You shouldn’t eat raw fruit.” A holistic practitioner might have said these things to you at some point. Have you wondered why? Have you held out hope that at some point the ban might be lifted? Here’s why avoiding uncooked foods might be a good idea for you, and what you may be able to do to return to your former life of raw produce.

One of the things I love most about Chinese medicine is the poetic way of talking about the human body we have inherited from the classics. Even in these modern times, I feel, there are so many things we still don’t understand about the body. Rather than use medical or scientific jargon, why not talk about it using familiar metaphors? In my clinic I will often compare bodily cycles with the seasons of the earth or digestion with the work a cook does in her kitchen. The stomach is fairly accurately represented as a cooking pot: food goes in and your body heats and transforms it into something it can use.

What happens if your body doesn’t have enough heat to cook what you ate? You may notice a variety of things: maybe you feel full after eating only a little bit. Maybe you get a lot of abdominal bloating or gas. Maybe your food comes out the other end still partially undigested. Raw things like cold salads or fruit take more heat and energy to transform before your body can use them. Some people deal just fine with raw greens or an apple a day. But if you are the sort of person who is already a little short on heat, you are more likely to notice the kinds of reactions I described.

There are a lot of reasons your body might not have the heat available to cook your food. There could be an energetic blockage somewhere in your system and heat might be pent up elsewhere, not free to circulate to where it is needed. Maybe you’ve been exposed to a lot of cold and your system just never warmed back up enough. It’s possible that the heat you do have just isn’t getting sent up to the digestive system due to lack of strength along that path.

So where does this leave you? Well, there’s no reason you have to settle for an under-powered stove. During the course of an interview with me I will ask a lot of questions about how your body works, how it has worked in the past, and what you hope for the future. I’ll develop a working theory around why you are having this type of cold, and come up with a plan to treat it. Chinese herbs and acupuncture can do a lot to help increase the amount of heat you have available to put under your cooking pot. If you’d like to learn how this could apply to you, write me at MGGaskinLAc@gmail.com. I’d love to talk one-on-one with you and get that cooking pot bubbling away again!

Your Chinese organ systems: Part two

Here I continue my illustration of how I see the twelve organ systems as they have been described in Chinese texts and courses of study I pursue. I’m sharing this to give an idea of how I think about how the organs function in the body and how they work together from a Chinese medical standpoint. If you are my patient you’ve probably gotten bits and peices of this, but I hope to offer a more complete picture in this three-part series.

There’s a full introduction to this series and the first four organs in my previous blog post. For now, let’s dive right in to the second grouping of organs: the Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, and Kidney.

Please note when I use a Capital versus a lowercase when mentioning organs–that will clue you in to when I’m talking about a concept versus the physical organ.

The Heart

We finally meet the Emperor! The Heart is considered the ruler of the other organs, situated in the upper part of the torso and sending life-giving blood to the whole body. Symptoms such as vivid dreaming or sensations in the chest such as heart palpitations can indicate that the Heart is involved in the patient’s pattern. We can address any imbalances that affect the Heart indirectly by treating the other organ systems, which will restore balance to the whole.

The Heart is the upper source of fire in the body, receiving fire from heaven and sending it down to the lower part of the abdominal cavity. In this way the Heart above connects with the Kidney below.

The Small Intestine

The Small Intestine is the Receiving Official, accepting food from the Stomach and Spleen, separating the turbid from the pure, and sending the waste down and out while sending the nutrition up to benefit the body. In the physiological body too, the small intestine does a large part of nutrient absorption.

The Small Intestine is a yin/yang, interior/exterior pair with the Heart. The warmth of the Heart, sent down from above, contributes to the SI’s ability to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. Some CM practitioners attribute idiopathic urinary tract infection or discomfort to Heart fire flaring along the Small Intestine, usually due to some external upset or influence. In that case, the SI acts almost like a relief valve for the Heart. There are few other common SI symptoms.

The Urinary Bladder

The Urinary Bladder has functions very similar to our physiological bladder. It holds the urine until it’s time to release it. The strength of the qi of other organs such as the Kidney aid in this store-and-release function. If there is urinary incontinence or difficulty the UB will be treated, but other organs may also need to be addressed. The condition of the UB also relates to the general state of the fluid metabolism of the body.

The UB channel has the most points of any in the body (67) and runs from the corners of our eyes, over the top of our head, in a double row along our spine, and down to the outside of our smallest toe. It covers the part of our bodies often attacked by wind–the neck and nape. You know that feeling when you’re coming down with a cold, and your neck gets all achy? That’s the domain of the Urinary Bladder. The UB is connected in this way to the exterior of the body and the Lung, which as I mentioned in the previous post regulates the opening and closing of the pores.

The Kidney

The Kidney is related to cold water, and is located low in the body. From its position below the other organs, it combines cold water with the fire that comes down from its partner the Heart to steam a fine mist upwards to moisten the other organs and aid in the digestive powers of the Spleen and Stomach (discussed last time). The watchword of the Kidneys is “storage.” If there are things coming out of storage–such as urine leaking out of the Bladder, blood leaking out of the vessels, or fluids leaking from the sexual organs–the Kidney could be involved.

If you have any questions, are curious or confused by this post, or just want to say hi, please email me at MGGaskinLAc@gmail.com or leave a comment here in my blog. I’m always happy to chat with you!

Next time I’ll discuss the Pericardium, San Jiao, Gallbladder, and Liver. Sign up for my email list and/or like me on Facebook to be notified when I publish my next post!

**None of this information is meant to help diagnose any medical disorders. If you have any questions please reach out to me or to your primary care physician.

Your Chinese organ systems: Part one

One of the most important things to be aware of in learning a little about Chinese medicine is that all aspects of the body and mind are interconnected, and none is discussed in isolation from the others. This tenet applies whether discussing blood, body fluids, bones, the emotions, or what I am going to talk about here: the organs.

Those who wrote the classic texts we still reference today knew about the existence of the body’s organs. They chose the metaphor of an emperor and his court to describe the relations of the organs to each other and to the body. This concept would have been understood by all scholars–if an author named the Heart as the emperor, the reader would understand that this meant the Heart occupied a very important, dominant position among the organs. The organs took on something akin to personality in this metaphor, and things they could and could not do might be understood without explanation because everyone understood how royal court worked.

The actions ascribed in the classics to each organ often correspond to the functions of the physical organs as we understand them today in the West. For instance, we’ll say that the Lung “faces the 100 vessels.” This sounds like a poetic way to describe how our lungs oxygenate our blood and send fresh life through the vessels back to the heart, and in a way it does mean that. More relevant to a discussion about Chinese medicine, however, is the emperor’s court metaphor. We will also say that the Lung is in charge of a downbearing effect related to the body’s fluids, and this has little equivalent in a biomedical sense.

Questions such as “how is the lung related to the skin” are ones that prompted me to try to put together some basic descriptions of the organs and their functions at court. I will begin with the first four organs: the Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, and Spleen. I intend to give an extremely brief overview of each of the 12 organs eventually, mention what parts of the body they correspond with, and how they interact with the whole. I fully expect that I’ll only get more questions in return after publishing this–and that’s what I want!

Please note when I use a Capital versus a lowercase when mentioning organs–that will clue you in to when I’m talking about a concept versus the physical organ.

The Lung

Think about how long you can go without eating versus how long you can go without taking a breath–that’s how important the role is that our lungs play. The air they take in is a very important part of how we generate qi, or energy, for the body. The constant bellows-like motion of the Lung is vital in aiding the Heart to disperse qi around the body. The Lung is considered a Minister in the metaphorical emperor’s court. The energy of the Lung spreads out and downward through the body.

Our lungs are considered the most superficial of organs, connected as they are with the external environment. The Lung therefore is related to the surface of the body–the skin, pores, and body hair. It is intimately connected with our early lines of defense against wind and other extremes of the outside world.

The Large Intestine

The Large Intestine is a yin/yang, interior/exterior pair with the Lung, and is also concerned with the exterior of the body. If you are aware that in Western thought, the food we eat isn’t “inside” our bodies until it gets absorbed into our cells, it will make sense that the L.I. is associated with the exterior.

The Large Intestine is a packaging center, to put things politely. After we have absorbed all we can from our food, it needs to be sent out of the body neatly and in a timely way. Issues with stools, the lower abdomen, and sometimes the skin correlate to the Large Intestine.

The Stomach

The Stomach is said to be in charge of “rotting and ripening.” This refers to its role in digestion, and very closely parallels the actions of our stomach organ. The area the Stomach is related to is the abdomen just below where your ribs separate. When the Stomach is working properly, food enters, is processed comfortably, and moves through to the packaging center (see above) to be handled in a timely manner. It operates in a downward direction–if it is disturbed and its energy flows upwards, we experience it as vomiting!

We shouldn’t notice most what our Stomach does in our day to day life–we should not experience undue rumbling, bloating, or discomfort in this process. If any of those things disturb you, it might be a good time to start a relationship with an acupuncturist!

The Spleen

The Spleen is an organ that performs a metaphorical function rather different from its role in our physical bodies. It is a yin/yang pair with the Stomach (which you recall acts in a downward direction), balancing out our digestive system. The Spleen is said to “hold the middle”–its energy is meant to lift and support our organs in their places, to assist in the ascent of qi and other energies that need to go up towards the upper parts of our bodies, and to send the good things we absorb from our food up and out to the places they are needed. This last function gives Spleen its title of Minister in charge of Transportation and Transformation.

The Spleen is often associated with the muscle layer. If we feel weakness in all four limbs, this may be related to a disruption in Spleen function.

Next time I’ll discuss the Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder and Kidney. Sign up for my email list and/or like me on Facebook to be notified when I publish my next post!

**None of this information is meant to help diagnose any medical disorders. If you have any questions please reach out to me or to your primary care physician.

Nervous system reset

I had a great experience over the weekend. A patient who has been busy enough this spring that I haven’t seen her in a while came for an appointment. She has had a lot of ups and downs lately and realized that she needed to rest and recharge with some self-care. We caught up on how she’s been doing since her last visit, I put in some needles for relaxation and to boost her qi, and I left her to rest on my heated table in the warm dark room for about half an hour.

The first thing this patient said to me when I came back in the room was, “I feel as though my nervous system has been reset.” It was what she needed to restore focus, calm her mind, and feel energized. I was so pleased to be a part of her healing.

So what does this mean for you? Well, it gives you an idea of the type of things acupuncture can do. Even if your body is feeling pretty good, your mind and spirit can be a little run down. It happens to all of us sometimes just from living our busy lives. One hour-long session (at the beautiful Tribe Healing Arts Center) can be enough to lift your spirits, smooth out tangled emotions, or help clear your mind. If you’ve never had acupuncture before, this little story might help you see that you don’t need to feel sick or have any definable health problem to make an appointment with me. If you have had acupuncture but it’s been a while, check in with yourself and see if you’re due for a tune-up!

You can book a first-time or returning patient appointment here on my website, from my Facebook page, or by going directly to my Square booking site.

The Five Flavors of your Chinese formula

Have you ever chewed up a Tylenol or Ibuprofen pill? Probably not. We swallow pharmaceuticals whole without tasting them because it doesn’t really matter what they taste like–the flavor isn’t part of the experience or the benefit to taking that type of medicine. Chinese herbs are a different story. If you’ve ever taken a Chinese formula you’ll know that there is a wide range of flavors you may experience, from the most bitter to almost sickly sweet, and anything in between. If you haven’t tried a formula before, I’d like to share with you the backstory on the flavors you may one day encounter so that you can go into the experience with a little excitement and a bit more understanding.

We talk about five basic flavors in our herbal medicine: Bitter, Acrid, Sweet, Sour, and Salty. Each herb can claim at least one flavor, possibly several. Knowing the herb’s flavor is a shortcut to understanding its function in a formula. (I will add that each herb also is said to have a “temperature” ranging from very hot to very cold, which also describe how the herb works, but flavors are enough to discuss in this post.)

The bitter flavor is probably the most noticeable one in a formula. We have some herbs that are among the most bitter things you can safely put in your mouth! You know how drinking your morning coffee usually helps you spend your morning time in the bathroom? Have you heard of drinking a bitter “digestif” after a large meal? Then you already understand the bitter flavor: bitter helps things descend in the body. Taking a formula with this flavor can apply whether you need help in the bathroom, to having a hard time with phlegm in your chest, to having anxiety with panic attacks. Any time something isn’t going down in the body that should–energetically or otherwise–I think of the bitter flavor.

The acrid flavor is called “pungent” in some books. For this discussion I think it’s easiest to describe it as spicy. Ginger has this property. So do clove, nutmeg, fennel, and cardamom, any of which could show up in a formula. You already know what the acrid flavor does, having experienced it when you ate something very spicy: your face turned red, you might have broken out in a sweat, and perhaps if you had any sinus congestion it cleared up. Acrid makes things go up and out.

The sweet flavor can often get drowned out by the bitter in a formula, but it is very important and can work even in the background. One of the sweetest of our herbs is honey-fried licorice, which shows up in practically every formula. Sweet nourishes the body, restores fluids, and moderates strong actions of other herbs. There is another flavor called Bland that fits in alongside sweet. It helps to get fluids to go where they are needed, whether that be from a wet place in the body to a dry place, or just out of the body altogether.

If you have ever bitten into a lemon wedge you understand what the sour flavor does. The word is “astringe,” but sour generally holds things in, just like you purse and scrunch your mouth up when you encounter straight lemon juice. Things that need to be held in can range from abnormal sweating to urinary leakage to excess bleeding. The sour flavor also performs an energetic action when the body is irritable or energy isn’t flowing in the directions it should, softening the impulse to lash out at everyone around you and helping you to return to your calm and rational self.

Just as salt on the roads softens ice, the salty flavor can soften areas in the body where things have congealed or formed lumps, or places where things have become brittle and dried out. It might seem counter-intuitive, but water follows solvents, and when things are rich and salty water and nourishment will flow in and plump things up.

One of the cooler things about Chinese herbs is that the flavors DO matter. I hope I’ve given you the beginnings of a deeper understanding and appreciation of these flavors. When you try your first formula, chances are you’ll think it’s gross. Once you have taken several different formulas your palate will change and expand.

Have you tried Chinese herbs? What was your experience? Or have you eaten something that had a remarkable flavor that you’ve never forgotten? Leave a comment with your story!