Chinese Medicine treats Colds and Flu

It is Cold and Flu season. Sniffles and coughs abound. The changes in weather stress and weaken our immune systems. According to Chinese Medicine dampness and cold winds carry “evil qi” or pathogens that attack us and make us sick.

They come in the form of Wind Cold and Wind Heat. Wind Cold starts with chills, a mild sore throat, fatigue and a runny nose with clear phlegm. It can progress into Wind Heat which includes fever and sweating, severe sore throat, body aches and sinus and lung congestion with yellow or green phlegm. Sometimes pathogens start as Wind Heat like the flu. Each presentation is treated individually with different herbs and acupuncture points.

If you catch the symptoms early enough an acupuncture expelling treatment can help fight off the pathogen along with herbs and vitamins. An herb formula called Cold Away that is carried by many acupuncturists is very effective as is Cold Snap found at Rainbow Bridge or Lassen’s. Goldenseal and Echinacea are also excellent at mobilizing the immune system. The same for Vitamin C and Zinc. Echinacea works by activating the virus and bacteria eating white cells so taking it preventatively is a waste.

Echinacea was my first powerful experience with herbs. I was nineteen and living in Vancouver, Canada in a damp, chilly basement in the winter. I had strep throat three times and the third round of antibiotics was not working. I went to an old fashioned (before convenient tablets and capsules) herb shop called the Golden Bough. The shelves from floor to ceiling were full of jars with mysterious looking roots and barks, leaves and flowers. I was given Echinacea root to cook up into a tea. It smelled and tasted awful but by the third cup I was feeling better and quickly recovered completely. This was the beginning of a lifetime journey with herbs and natural healing.

Once a pathogen has taken hold you can continue to take these products to help the immune system. Along with acupuncture they will help you recover more quickly and prevent complications and secondary infections. I frequently see people who have been sick for a month or two. This is quite preventable. Along with the support protocol herbs should be added that treat the individual symptoms and the acupuncture treatment should be adjusted accordingly.

In order to prevent illness it is good to get maintenance acupuncture and take an immune tonic once a month during cold season. An immune tonic should include Chinese mushrooms such as Cordyceps and Gandoderma as well as Astragalus root. A tonic should not be used once you are sick as the herbs will make the pathogen stronger. Studies and my twenty two years of experience have shown that people who get regular acupuncture get sick less frequently and recover more quickly.

Kathleen MacGregor is an acupuncturist with an office in Meiners Oaks. 805-646-6581
http://www.5-elementacupuncture

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What is Qi?

One of the first questions I receive from a new patient is often “what is Qi”? Why is it important? Because unlike that popular old song, it is Qi, not love that makes the world go round, although love is a wonderful manifestation of Qi. Qi is the vital essence that makes us alive and conscious. The characteristics of Qi are warmth and movement. It has multiple qualities and manifestations. People, animals and plants have Qi. The wind carries Qi.

Think of a head of lettuce at the supermarket, trucked in from many miles away and kept in a cooler for days. It looks a little sad, deflated and pale. Compare that with the lettuce freshly picked from an organic, biodynamic garden. It is almost jumping up and down, waving its leaves shouting, “eat me, eat me!” Guess which one has stronger Qi and by eating it will transfer that vibrant Qi to your body?

We are born with a finite amount of Qi referred to as our “ancestral Qi”. It resides in the Kidney energetic system or “Ming Men”. We expend it throughout our lives. In order to create longevity and a good quality of life we must nurture and preserve our ancestral qi with a balanced lifestyle. We can also replace some Qi by taking in food, water and breath. The quality of what we put in our bodies directly affects the quality of Qi that we manifest.

When someone is strong and vital with stamina, glowing skin and shiny hair they have abundant Qi. When someone is graceful in movement and demeanor, is intuitive and soothing to be around they have harmonious Qi. When someone is pale, tired and weak they have deficient Qi. People can have confused Qi and refined Qi when clear thinking.
People can exchange Qi through touch and emotions. We are always changed by our contact with others, animals too. Therapy dogs in a cancer infusion room reduce side effects. Stroking your cat brings down your blood pressure. Working in the garden, our hands in the Qi rich earth, reconnects us with our wholeness.

Qi is supposed to flow evenly throughout our meridians and their associated organs and tissues. When qi becomes stuck, deficient or out of balance we have pain, emotional upset and disease. Qi imbalance can have internal and external causes. Excessive emotions can cause Qi stagnation. Trauma, anger, grief and even excessive joy can cause imbalance. Weather, excessive activity, pathogens like viruses and bacteria and accidents can derange Qi.

Our Wei Qi is the defensive system flowing in the superficial meridians of the body, protecting us from external pathogens. Gu Qi is the Qi our bodies make from food that drives the fire of digestion and our biochemical functions. Ancestral Qi, received from our parents decides our constitutional make up. Three thousand years before science discovered genes Chinese Medicine recognized that our vital essence was affected by how we treated our bodies. It was understood that irreparable harm could be done by living an excessive and toxic lifestyle. Now we know that exposure to toxins, excessive stress and viruses can damage our genes and cause serious illness.

In Chinese Medicine Qi flow and balance equals health. Tai Qi, Qi Gung and yoga are movement practices that support Qi flow. Any moderate excercise is good. Laughter warms the whole body with Qi. Good food and sleep nurture our Qi. But when we are so out of balance that we have illness the Acupuncture and herbs of Chinese medicine can help. An acupuncturist will diagnose the imbalance by considering the symptoms, looking at the tongue and taking the pulses. There are twelve pulses that reflect the state of Qi in each of the twelve main meridians. The acupuncture points for treatment are chosen based on the diagnosis made using all this information. The goal of treatment is always to balance and strengthen the Qi of the patient based on their individual and unique presentation.
Kathleen MacGregor is an Acupuncturist with an office in Meiners Oaks.
805-798-2511. More articles on Chinese Medicine are available on her web site;
http://www.5-elementacupuncture.com.

Experiencing the Element of Metal in autumn. Kathleen MacGregor L.Ac.

Autumn has arrived in Southern California with rain that is welcomed by the thirsty earth. We find joy in the cool air and the sound of rain on the window but there is also a touch of melancholy that is felt. The year is ending. Winter is coming.

The Five Elements of Chinese Medicine; Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood are expressions of the natural changes of energy throughout the day, seasons and our lifetimes. These changes are apparent in nature and in body, mind and spirit. Autumn is the season associated with the Element of Metal. Metal expresses itself in us through the process of letting go of the old and taking in the new. The leaves fall and decompose as the year ends. They enrich the soil with vital minerals and nutrients allowing for new growth in the spring. Without this cycle the earth would be barren.

Loss and change are a part of life. We are constantly called on to let go of beloved people, pets, material things and parts of our lives. Grief and sadness are our natural response to these losses. The expression of that grief is healthy and allows us to let go and eventually to let new people and experiences into our lives.

When the Metal Element is out of balance we can become so mired in the grief that we are unable to move on. We live always looking back with regret and sadness. Or we may be unable to express our grief at all, becoming cold and rigid inside, holding on to the sadness and limiting our ability to let in anything new.

The organs and meridians associated with Metal are the Lung and Large Intestine. The Large Intestine disposes of all the waste and toxins our body produces on a physical, mental and spirit level. When Metal is out of balance toxins and negativity accumulate. The build up of waste can be seen in our internal and external environment. People can become hoarders filling their home with debris. They can let go of personal hygiene becoming smelly and unclean.

Large Intestine 4, Joining the Valleys, is used in acupuncture to treat this kind of imbalance. It removes blockages and releases toxins in body, mind and spirit. It empties and relaxes which allows for receptivity. Combined with Lung 7, Narrow Defile, which is used when things are too tight and constrained, room is allowed for breathing in. The strength of the Metal Element is exemplified in these two points that empower inspiration and letting go.

The Lung is responsible for taking in the new be it oxygen, new ideas or inspiration for the spirit. The ancient Chinese Medicine textbook, the Nei Jing, describes the Lung as the “receiver of pure Qi from the Heavens”. The Metal Element is our connection with the divine. This is why most meditation practices include a focus on the breath.

Without that connection to the divine – that spark of inspiration – we are left adrift, without guidance and stuck in grief, the emotion associated with Metal. We may spend our lives seeking, always looking on the outside for that missing connection with spirit.

To treat this imbalance Lung 9, Great Abyss, can be used. This point unites Heaven and Earth bringing the nourishment of Earth to the dark pit of grief and joining it with the precious spark from the Heavens. We regain a sense of quality in ourselves and the self-esteem that Metal provides.

The season of autumn is the time to celebrate the qualities of Metal in our lives. The pure essence of the divine spark we breathe in that provides us with enrichment and wisdom, and the self respect we build when our lives have a sense of quality. It’s a time to let go of things that are holding us back, an opportunity to allow our life experiences to turn into a rich compost, ready for the spring and new growth to come.

Balancing the Emotions with Chinese Medicine

It is healthy and natural to experience our emotions. It is when we suppress them or are overwhelmed by them that we get into trouble. I have treated many patients whose physical symptoms started with an excess of and inability to cope with one or more of the 5 Emotions. Unless we can identify and treat that underlying emotional imbalance the physical symptoms often keep returning.

5 Element Acupuncture assigns an emotion to each Element and its corresponding organs and meridians. The emotion of Fire is joy, Earth is sympathy, Metal is grief, Water is fear and Wood is anger. These 5 emotions and their many variations shape our behavior and relationships.

I frequently treat patients who are coping with a loss in their lives causing overwhelming grief. The Metal Element corresponds with grief and the organ and meridian of the lung. In Chinese Medicine the Lung controls the Wei (defensive) Qi that protects the body from attacks of pathogenic qi like viruses and bacterias. These patients frequently experience repeated upper respiratory infections and multiple complications of a compromised immune system.

Just treating the grieving patient with bronchitis using herbs and points that expel pathogens is not enough. It is necessary to recognize the underlying emotional cause. I might treat this condition with a point like Spleen 16, Abdoman Sorrow. It eases the sense of loss and fills the emptiness with the nurturing spirit of the mother Earth, the Spleen’s related element.
Another point could be Lung 9, Very Great Abyss. This is chosen when a person is in a very dark place, no light can be perceived. It provides the energy to breath out the old and allow in the new.

When dealing with grief breathing is a helpful focus. Long deep breathing excercises done daily and combined with the movement of a gentle style of yoga help to release the stagnation of unexpressed grief.

Another emotion I commonly treat is anxiety. We live in anxious times, people are worried about everything from climate change to job loss to loneliness. Earth’s related emotion is sympathy which when in excess is expressed as overthinking, obsessing and worrying. Worry disrupts Earth’s meridians the Spleen and Stomach, people’s stomachs are in a knot, qi rebels and causes hyperacidity or gets stuck and causes constipation.

The chemicals of anxiety create an overly sensitive nervous system resulting in insomnia, headaches, panic attacks and musculo-skeletal pain. Acupuncture can help calm the nervous system and balance the excess of stimulating neurotransmitters. But the symptoms started with an energetic imbalance on the emotional level where the spirit is injured and effective treatment must address this.

Governing Vessel 20, 100 Meetings, might be chosen. This point at the crown of the head reconnects one with the wisdom and experience of our elders within. Another point is Conception Vessel 14, Great Deficiency, used when there is fear, confusion and panic. It calms and revitalizes the body, mind and spirit and relaxes the system by putting the governing energy of the Heart back in control.

Daily meditation helps anxiety. Focusing on the breath and letting go of each thought as it arises reminds us that we are not our thoughts and we don’t have to be controlled by them.

Emotions are just energy, they can be balanced and deepen our experience of life. They can also derail our lives and keep us from being the best we can be. Acupuncture can be used to balance our emotional energy and keep us in touch with who we truly are.

Kathleen is a 5 Element Acupuncturist practicing since 1988.
She has an office in Meiners Oaks, 646-6581,
http://www.5-elementacupuncture.com

Harvest Time and the Earth Element

In Chinese Medicine the Law of the Five Elements provides us with a way of diagnosing and treating energetic imbalances that manifest as physical, emotional or mental symptoms by balancing and strengthening the flow of Qi, or life force. Each of the Elements; Earth, Water, Metal, Wood and Fire represent a part of the continuing cycle of energy as it moves and changes in the repetitive patterns of days and nights, seasons and lifetimes. Understanding that each element represents a part of ourselves helps us to work with our own strengths and weaknesses, the inevitability of constant change and to connect with our own unique abilities and destiny.

The Element of Earth is associated with late summer and the time of harvest. The nourishment from a good harvest provides a sense of stability and security for the cold season to come and the seeds for spring and new growth.
The organs and meridians of Earth, the Spleen, Stomach and Pancreas, are responsible for taking in nourishment, assimilating it and distributing it to all parts of the body.

Mother Earth provides us with food, not only for the body but for the mind and spirit as well. The Earth Element is embodied in the earth we stand on and the energy of the mother. A good mother provides our bodies with physical nourishment, our minds with knowledge and stimulation and our spirits with a sense of belonging and the security of unconditional love.

A person whose Earth element is in balance carries a sense of being at home and grounded within herself. She is able to take in food for her body, nourishment for her spirit and ideas and knowledge for her mind. She is able to give comfort and compassion to others. She is secure in the certainty of a good harvest and can share with others.

When the Earth Element is out of balance a person may feel like a child whose mother was absent and whose needs were never cared for. This child will always be crying for attention. She may never learn how to care for herself or others. She may live her life in self absorption, feeling empty inside, always looking for that harvest that never comes. An imbalance could also go the other way where a person obsessively takes care of others, ignoring her own needs to the detriment of her health and happiness.

An Earth imbalance expressed on the physical level can be seen as excessive overeating or anorexia. Unable to believe in the security of a good harvest a person may eat to the point of obesity. Another person may deny themselves completely unable to take any nourishment in.
The process of digestion can become stagnant causing the many symptoms of indigestion and malnutrition because the Earth energy is unable to process and assimilate food.

The same can happen on a mental level when a person can no longer take in or process ideas or emotions. When there is no harvest we worry about surviving the winter to come. There is no sense of safety and people become anxious and obsessively worry about having enough of anything; food, comfort or love.

When encountering a patient whose Earth is out of balance a 5 Element acupuncturist may use a point like Stomach 40 – Abundant Splendor. This point reconnects a person with their sense of the Earths abundance, the fullness of the harvest and the ability to see the riches within.

Another point used might be Stomach 23 – Great Oneness. This point brings together a fractured self by uniting body, mind and spirit. By synchronizing all 3 it allows a person to move forward.

The power of the Earth Element is its ability to take all that is nourishing in life and transform it into words, thoughts and actions that serve self and others in integrity and in balance.
When Earth is strong the spirit is rooted and grounds the energy of the other elements at the center. This provides a sense of equanimity and peacefulness that makes it easier to cope with the constant changes of life.

Summer and the Element of Fire Kathleen MacGregor L.Ac.

Chinese Medicine’s Five Element system describes the flow of Qi, (or life force), through time, all living things and our bodies. It gives us a framework for understanding where the flow of Qi may be blocked or out of balance causing pain, illness and emotional and lifestyle challenges. The Elements; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water represent phases in the movement of Qi. Each phase has its related characteristics such as seasons, colors, sounds, emotions and powers.

Summer Solstice has just passed; the longest time of light of the year. This is the season of the element of Fire. Summer follows spring on the cycle of creation, or building up, of Qi. The spirit of Wood with its hope and vision for the future leads us into the spirit of Fire which is being fully present in the moment. We can relax and enjoy the fruition of our planning, the sun is at its height, nature is in full bloom and the community comes out to play.

Love and joy are the ways the Fire element expresses itself within us, our inner sun. Love fires our spirit and enables us to connect with other people and to all of life, to join in community and friendship. It gives us the joy and enthusiasm to involve ourselves fully in whatever we do. Whether it is washing the dishes, walking the dog or going to work we can have fun.

Our inner sun creates heat that we need to survive. The main characteristics of Qi are warmth and movement. The warmth of Qi provided by Fire keeps our blood flowing, speeds up our digestion and assimilation and fuels all the millions of biochemical transformations needed to support the mind and body.

An imbalance in the energy of Fire can be seen in symptoms of excess or deficiency. When the inner Fire burns too low a persons heart may be too protected, they may be unable to reach out and connect with others. A person may seem defensive and cool, unable to find the joy in life, feeling flat and empty even in circumstances that normally would create happiness. Parts of the body may be too cool and the metabolism slows down.

When there is too much Fire its like having the heater blasting in summer. Everything dries out. A person may feel too hot and look red. Inflammation and eruptions of heat may be seen in the skin and tissues. People can be too open all the time, unable to set appropriate boundaries. Desperate to connect they may seem attention seeking and too intense.

Speech and the tongue are controlled by the Fire element. Fire in balance engenders communication, understanding and the spark of clear thinking and intelligence. When Fire is excess a persons voice speeds up and they seem loud and overly excited. Their speech may be garbled and their thinking confused. When Fire is deficient a person may seem closed and uncommunicative. Speech is slow and ideas are difficult to express. The voice seems flat even when talking about happy events.

The organ and energetic system of Fire is the heart. The Nei Jing, the main text of Chinese Medicine, refers to the heart as the Supreme Controller. It rules and organizes all the energy systems and functions and must be properly nurtured and protected. The Nei Jing says, “when the spirit is strong then the suffering is minute”. When the inner sun burns bright we are able to grow and be inspired, feel loved and connected even in illness and hard times.

The first acupuncture point on the heart meridian is called Utmost Source. It is used when a person fells isolated and alone, can’t love self or others. It rekindles the connection with the inner spirit of Fire. Another acupuncture point on the Heart Protector meridian is called Palace of Weariness. Palaces are places of richness that provide nourishment for the weary heart and gives the strength to go on.

The power and gift that the element of Fire provides on our life journey is its ability to illuminate the depth and to reveal the nature of the inner truth that serves as a foundation for insight and correct action in life. The love and joy that Fire creates connects us with others, allows us to open our hearts and give and receive in equal measure.

Kathleen MacGregor is a Five Element acupuncturist with an office in Meiners Oaks. 805-646-6581,
http://www.5-elementacupuncture.com

The Energetics of Digestion

Kathleen MacGregor
Licensed Acupuncturist

Two of the most common health problems I work with in my acupuncture practice are digestive complaints and excess weight gain. There is so much confusion about what healthy eating is these days. Since World War 11 the use of mass refrigeration and long distance transportation paired with marketing by big corporations of processed and packaged food has significantly changed the way people eat in the West. We used to eat food that was fresh, locally grown and in season. This was the way most humans ate and a practice we might consider returning to that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, supports our digestive health, normal weight and the health of our planet.
Overeating, feeling constantly hungry, craving sweet, salty or fried food and bingeing on carbohydrates like bread are common dietary behaviors that have two causes in Chinese Medicine. The first is injury to the “seven emotions” (another article). The second is an energetic imbalance of the digestive system, or Earth Element, which includes the organs and meridians of the Spleen, Pancreas and Stomach or the “Middle Burner”.
Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to the Earth Element as the Middle Burner because it views life as a series of warm transformations fueled by the heat of Qi circulating in the Upper, Middle and Lower Burners. The Lower Burner consisting of the Kidney Energetic System holds our inherited or pre-natal essence creating what is called the Ming Men or Gate of Fire. We live as long as that Fire burns. It is supplemented by and supports the warmth of the Middle Burner which gives us our acquired essence. This is derived from the air we breathe and the food and liquid we consume. All metabolic and biochemical reactions, movement, thoughts and activities require inherited and acquired essence.
If we live an excessive lifestyle that burns through a lot of energy it uses up that essence. If we live a balanced lifestyle that protects our inherited essence by promoting good digestion that in turn provides us with plenty of acquired essence we can store it up as we sleep. It’s like creating a savings account that supplements the Gate of Fire so that we can live a long and healthy life.
In Chinese Medicine the digestive tract is called the Xiao Hua Dao. Xiao means dispersing. Hua means transformation and Dao means path. So the digestive system is the path of transformation and dispersing. It takes the food and liquid we consume and transforms them into pure and impure dispersing the pure to fuel the body and excreting the impure.
So good digestion and health depends on a vital and warm Middle Burner that effectively transforms and disperses. The problem is that our typical Western diet and excessive eating habits put out the Fire! The transforming and dispersing slow down and the Earth becomes swampy creating conditions that Chinese Medicine calls stagnation and dampness. Stagnation, like a car stuck in overdrive, creates heat and becomes conditions like damp heat, phlegm, stomach heat and eventually fire toxin. This all translates into conditions we can recognize as being overweight, chronic sinusitis and upper respiratory infections, gas, constipation, irritable bowel, stomach ulcers, allergies and hyperacidity to name a few. All from poor digestion and eating foods that injure the Earth.
What are the foods that injure the Earth? In Chinese Medicine foods and herbs have thermal qualities of warming and cooling that represent their action on our bodies. Too much warming food overheats the digestive system and causes inflammatory conditions. Too much cooling food injures the ability of the Middle Burner to transform and disperse creating dampness. The typical diet in the West is excessively cooling and dampening.
Wheat, a central staple of the West, is very cooling as are concentrated sugars, coffee, soy, dairy, lettuce, citrus and tomatoes. Cold temperature foods such as ice cream and iced drinks also cool the Middle Burner.
A diet that supports the Earth is one that is abundant in vegetables and whole grains with small amounts of everything else. Rice is a particularly healthy grain because it leeches damp and balances the dampening effects of other foods. Our proteins from meat, beans and dairy use a lot of Qi to digest and should be eaten in smaller amounts. A balance of the five flavors such as spices and herbs like ginger or cardamon can help warm a cool Earth. Drinking cold beverages with meals is harmful but a hot cup of water can be beneficial. Cooking food is helpful. Soups, stews, stir fries and steaming put some fire into the food and aids the Middle Burner in transforming and dispersing and allows us to derive more nutrition from our food. Too much raw food with a damp Earth creates more damp.
Chinese Medicine is big on the Middle Path. Like I tell my patients, unless you are very ill, it is what you do every day that makes a difference not the occasional piece of pizza or chocolate cake. Like Grandma used to say “eat your veggies dear”.

Kathleen is a Five Element Acupuncturist. She has been in practice since 1988 and has an office in Meiners Oaks. 805-646-6581. http://www.5-elementacupuncture.com

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