Getting Your Gut Right: Pt. 1 – Gut-Buddies

If your bacteria are healthy – you’re healthy. That’s right – the health of the giant mass of living micro-organisms in your large intestine (and on your skin, in your nasal cavity and everwhere) has an essential role to play in the health of your brain and nervous system, your liver, your immune system, and your bodyweight itself. This gut flora is collectively referred to as your microbiome, and when your microbiome is sick it’s referred to as dysbiosis.

Things to know:

  • Dysbiosis is being linked to depression [1], autism [2], obesity [2], type 2 diabetes [2], liver disease and inflammation [2], compromised lung immunity [2], prevention of cancer [3] performance at cancer checkins [2], generalized inflammation and Alzheimers [4], and inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis [5].
  • You are made of only 1/100 human cells (in other words, you are onle 1% YOU) You are 100 times more a carrier for other organisms in your gut than you are human cells. One to two pounds of your bodyweight is bacteria. [2]
  • Your gut bacteria are responsible for synthesizing vitamin K and vitamin B12 for you [2]. Got deficiencies? It could be your gut-buddies.
  • Your gut bacteria manufacture up to 90% of the serotonin in your body [6], i.e. they enable it to do all the things it does with serotonin. I don’t know about you but I like to wonder what my bacteria are thinking.
  • The connection between the microbiome and the nervous system is so strong that researchers call it the gut-brain axis or the gut-brain-microbiome axis. It’s even been referred to as the “second brain”. Gives new meaning to your gut instinct.

Here are some things you can do to keep your gut-buddies nice and happy.

  • Consider taking antibiotics to be the nuclear option for when you are really sick.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners and flavors
  • Eat probiotic foods like pickles and pickled vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, and stinky cheeses.
  • Drink kefir! Water kefir or yogurt kefir or any kind!
  • Fasting is good for almost everything, including your gut bacteria. It allows your sugar-craving bacteria to die off so you can regulate your appetite (one of the many ways of appetite regulation along with sleep, sunlight, and grounding).
  • Take a high quality probiotic (ask me about the choice of probiotics I carry!)

Multivitamins: Natural vs. Unnatural

For most people, buying a multivitamin is a one-size-fits-all way to cover your bases. It’s sort of a nutritional insurance policy. But are they really all they’re cracked up to be?

I don’t think so.

In my experience, the ingredients in the majority of multivitamins add a toxic load to the body and don’t do much to modulate an individual’s nutrient status. Most multivitamins use synthetic or semi-synthetic chemicals that are believed to work as analogues to the vital nutrients your body uses. In other words, the FDA says it’s okay for supplement manufacturers to list ascorbic acid as “Vitamin C”, so that’s what they often use in it’s place. While many people experience anti-oxidative benefits from supplementing ascorbic acid, the reality is that true Vitamin C is a complex of bioflavonoids with many components and co-factors, which aren’t encompassed by supplementation with ascorbic acid alone. (Also beware of the estrogenic effects of high dose ascorbic acid.) This same concept applies to most of the forms of vitamins and minerals found in common multivitamins.

Take the case of supplemental Vitamin D. Unless you’re supplementing your Vitamin D from cod liver oil or some other naturally occurring source of Vitamin D in it’s animal form (psst, hey – you’re an animal), then you’re taking something other than what Nature intended. What is sold as Vitamin D in the healthfood industry is, indeed, Vitamin D – and it does come from an animal – but there’s an important caveat. Industrial cholecalciferol is UV radiated lanolin. The industry found a way to take the sticky stuff that comes from sheep sebaceous glands (i.e. sheep sweat) that Grandpa used to put on his knuckles in the winter to keep them moisturized, and expose it to high doses of UV light. This is exactly what your skin does when exposed to the sun. The cholesterol in your body becomes sulfated and becomes cholecalciferol, which is absorbed into the bloodstream to be sent to the kidneys to become Vitamin D. You see the problem there?

This is about as logical as saying you’re going to get all your Vitamin D by eating pork skins and call that “natural”. It’s not natural. Don’t get me wrong – I love pork skins. But it’s not how Nature intended for you to get your Vitamin D. Butter, milk, eggs, meat, cheese, and – most importantlythe Sun are how you are designed to get your Vitamin D.

Here’s my last example (and it’s a doozy): cyanocobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is one of the cheapest and most readily available forms of Vitamin B12 on the market. Many doctors will tell you this is a perfectly fine substitute if you have a deficiency. If you can’t tell by the name, cyanocobalamin is a combination of cobalt and cyanide. Sound’s scary, right? Well, it might be. If you Google it, you will find websites telling you that the cyanide in cyanocobalamin is nothing to worry about. It’s true that we get small amounts of cyanide (in the form of cyanogenic glycosides) when we take certain herbs or eat certain vegetables. Our bodies deal with this just fine. However, this is where I stop to ask the perennial question…

What are your objectives?

Is there not a better way? Hasn’t Nature provided us with something that works in harmony with how our bodies are made? Is it even feasible to think we can take supplemental nutrients in their isolated and synthetic forms and truly meet our health goals?

If we took your blood and analyzed the levels of B12 in it – we’d be looking for cobalamin. That is what your body uses as B12. What is the best form of cobalamin? Beef liver. Try it. It’s got the word “live” in it. (NOTE: other limited factors in B12 deficiency include intrinsic factor insufficiency and dysbiosis.)

The point of this article is to get you thinking about what’s natural vs. what’s unnatural and to help you ask yourself how you’d like to meet your nutritional goals. When people come in looking for a multivitamin, I often direct them to beef liver capsules and cod liver oil, taken in combination. Other organ meat supplements can be found from high quality sources – heart, kidney, bone marrow, etc. Everything you need to make a healthy body is contained therein.

Who would have thought?

(Grandma would have.)

Veganism and Raw Food

You are an animal.

You are a higher order of biology than the plant kingdom. By “order” I pretty much mean more metabolically and biochemically complex.

If we conserve the wisdom of our elders and the sound knowledge of how man has eaten for millenia, then one logical conclusion we may arrive to from this that, simply, it is easier to absorb nutrients from an animal than it is from a plant.

Your body has to do more work to turn plant into animal than it does to turn animal into animal. More complexity for your gastric secretions to dissolve in the acid bath of your stomach. Also consider that there is a distinct difference in biochemistry between nutrients in their plant form and nutrients in their animal form. Take what we refer to as “Vitamin A”, for example. Vitamin A in a plant is often in the form of beta-carotene. Your body has to take these plant compounds (carotenoids in this case) and use energy to convert it into what you use as an animal, which is called retinol or true vitamin A. Whereas if you were to consume animal fat (butter, lard, egg yolk, whole milk), then that Vitamin A (retinol) would go right to where it needs to go in the body without having to be converted.

Like recognizes like. Simple.

Simply put – if you want to do things efficiently – it takes animal to build animal; it takes blood to build blood.

Now, this doesn’t mean go overboard with meat. There are oxidative drawbacks to unrestricted protein consumption. That’s not to say that intermittently jacking up your protein consumption wouldn’t serve as an appropriate hormetic stress, given that the season is right (winter). I once milk fasted (meaning I consumed nothing but raw milk) for 2 weeks. I then used this as a spring board into a 2 month carnivore diet. If it didn’t come from an animal, I didn’t eat it.

Yep.

First of all, I was ketogenic. I believe that lactose (given you’re “genetically equipped”) is actually more easily broken down than other sugars by the body. More on enzymes in a bit. Second of all, my digestion was fine and I felt great. I was also doing the most intense training of my life at this time.

Was this sustainable? Yes but possibly oxidative long term.
Would I do things different? Yes, that’s why I do what I do now.
This is intended to serve as an example of what’s possible and the fact that all that cholesterol, saturated fat, and protein didn’t kill me. I was at peak performance.

Now to enzymes. You are least equipped to digest plants than any other form of food by virtue of the enzymes that are produced by your stomach, pancreas, and salivary glands. You can digest carbohydrate – you produce amylase. You can digest fat – you produce lipase. You can digest protein – you produce protease. Unless you are lactose intolerant (which can be a genetic issue or a functional issue), you even produce lactase for digesting the milk sugar (lactose) in dairy products. However, you produce no cellulase whatsoever – the enzyme necessary to break down the cell wall of plants (which are made of cellulose). Most herbivores do not even produce cellulase, much less the omnivorous human. This is why certain herbivores have rumens (meaning they are ruminants) – a specialized second-stomach that is super-hot and full of bacteria for breaking down plant material by fermentation. In the case of cows and other ruminants, they cough up their cud (partially digested grass and plant material) to chew it even more before swallowing it again to be chemically digested by their first stomach. They do this over and over. If that weren’t enough, cows have four stomachs to be double, triple, and quadruple sure that the plant material has been thoroughly broken down and is ready for absorption. They do this in lieu of cooking.

If you are a gorilla or a panda, you spend practically your entire day eating. This is because it’s extremely hard to absorb the amount of nutrients necessary for life on only plant material. If you want to absorb nutrition from plant material, the cell walls of the plant must be broken so the contents of the cells are released. To do this, they must be cooked. Chewing doesn’t even come close and stomach acid doesn’t cut it either – this is evidenced by the fact that when many people eat salad, they end up seeing salad in the toilet. Plant cells are able withstand up to 1,500 pounds per square inch. The human bite maxes out at 120 lb/in², and we don’t usually bite down on our food with all our might. When humans developed the ability to use fire, they became better able to digest and to absorb the nutrients from plants.

Man uses fire to cook his food. This is why we have the most unique diet on Earth.

Many people nowadays are under the assumption that raw food is superior to cooked food because it retains its life force. While this may be true at a certain level, it is not your bodies objective to assimilate the life force from what it eats. It’s job is to make it’s own life force from the building blocks its given. It is a transformative process – not just adding life force to a life force receptacle. When you eat that raw head of broccoli, you are eating something that is still alive. As it goes through your digestive tract it is releasing chemical defense compounds in an attempt to keep from being eaten (see, Living with Phytic Acid). The broccoli does not simply give up. When you throw a raw seed on the ground, it germinates – it’s life force dictates this. When you throw a seed that has been soaked or roasted on the ground, its own internal life force is gone and it’s nutrients are available to the bacteria in the soil around it – it becomes life force for something else.

For many health, ecological, and ethical-minded individuals, eating animal products raises a number of red flags. There is no doubt that the practices of both conventional farming and animal slaughter are horrifying and render unhealthy products. There are a number of documentaries on the atrocities of factory farming which I will not list here.

Do your best to find high quality products. Free-range, grass-fed, humanely slaughtered (Kosher, Halal, etc.), and organic is what you want. Be aware that grass has now been genetically modified and if it’s not organic then “grass-fed” can also mean GMO-fed.

Also, honor that which nourishes you and sustains your life. Be thankful for your food and pray that it serves you to the highest possible degree. Even if your food was not humanely slaughtered, you can take a moment to pray and to transmute the negativity the animal absorbed on its journey to your plate by giving thanks to the life that was given so that you can live. It is never too late to do this.

I believe if these nutritional principles are followed then one is less likely to develop nutrient deficiencies as a consequence of long-term restrictive diets such as vegetarianism, veganism, or raw-food-ism.

Also check out this article: Cholesterol: One of Your Body’s Most Important Molecules

The Five Phases

Five Element or Five Phase Theory is something which many people are increasingly familiar with, whether they have a background in Chinese Medicine or not. It sometimes goes by the Wuxing (“Five Phase” in Chinese), and dates back to approximately 200 BC. The five phases are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. The phases are energetic archetypes which are expressed in different ways through Nature and through the world at large. The seasons have a phase, the organs and channels each have a phase, and certain characteristics of the mind, body, and spirit each have an associated phase as well. One of the great tasks of Confucianism was fitting governmental structure into the five phase model. This just goes to show that the five phases are expressed in a multitude of ways.

Each individual phase has a unique set of correspondences and characteristics that it embodies. They are also considered to be cyclical in nature, meaning there is an explicit order to the phases. Any given phase has another phase which it generates, a phase which it controls, and a phase which it is controlled by. Here I will give a brief overview of the phases and some of the characteristics of each. Some of these associations may seem strange, but it is best to look at each of these elements as encompassing an energetic blueprint that unites all of it’s associations into a complex web of correspondence.

Water (水 shuǐ)

The Water phase is associated with the color black or blue. Its yin organ is the Kidney and its yang organ is the Bladder. The energy of Water is one of storage and it shares a relationship with one’s past and one’s ancestors. The emotion associated with Water is fear and the psychospiritual aspect of the Water is the willpower or zhi. It opens to the ears and is related to the bones. Its sound is groaning, its taste is salty, and its smell is putrid. Its direction is North and its season is Winter. It is associated with old age and with conception. It is also related to the cold and with the sense of hearing. The virtue of Water is wisdom.

Having healthy Water means having healthy Kidney and Bladder energy and having a sense of connection to one’s history. Working through one’s trauma and being able to move through the world without fear is also important for the Water phase. Being able to access one’s Water energy is important when you need to take a break from the world to pray or meditate.

Water generates Wood and is generated by Metal. Water controls Fire and is controlled by Earth.

Wood (木 )

The Wood phase is associated with the color green. Its yin organ is the Liver and its yang organ is the Gallbladder. The energy of Wood has to do with birth, growth, and development. The emotion associated with Wood is anger and the psychospiritual aspect of Wood is the hun or the ethereal energy that wanders when we dream or daydream. It opens to the eyes and is related to the tendons and ligaments (“sinews”). Its sound is shouting, its taste is sour, and its smell is rancid. Its direction is East and its season is Spring. It is associated with infancy and early childhood. It is also related to the wind and with the sense of sight. The virtues of Wood are peace and kindness.

Having healthy Wood means having healthy Liver and Gallbladder energy and having a sense of purpose and direction in life. Working on one’s temper is important for the Wood phase. Being able to access one’s Wood energy is important when expressing oneself and in being creative. It is also important to move one’s body and to be active to prevent the Wood phase from stagnating.

Wood generates Fire is generated by Water. Wood controls Earth and is controlled by Metal.

Fire (火 huǒ)

The Fire phase is associated with the color red. It yin organs are the Heart and the Pericardium, and its yang organs are the Small Intestine and a mysterious organ called the Sanjiao or Triple Burner (often associated with the fascia). The energy of Fire is expansion. The emotion associated with Fire is joy and the psychospiritual aspect of Fire is the shen or spirit, often associated with conscious awareness. It opens to the tongue and is related to the blood and vasculature. Its sound is laughing, its taste is bitter, and its smell is a burnt or scorched odor. Its direction is South and its season is Summer. It is associated with pre-pubescent childhood. It is also related to conditions of heat and with the sense of taste. The virtue of Fire is love.

Having healthy Fire means having a healthy Heart, circulatory system, Small Intestine, and fascia. It also means having passion and a zest for life. Working on being grounded and not getting overexcited or anxious is important for the Fire phase. Nervous or inappropriate laughter is associated with Fire phase imbalance.

 Fire generates Earth and is generated by Wood. Fire controls Metal and is controlled by Water.

Earth (土 )

The Earth phase (sometimes referred to as soil) is associated with the color yellow. Its yin organ is the Spleen and its yang organ is the Stomach. The energy of Earth is transformation. The emotion associated with Earth is pensiveness or overthinking and the psychospiritual aspect of Earth is yi or intention. It opens to the mouth and is related to the flesh and musculature. It’s sound is singing, it’s taste is sweet, and it’s smell is fragrant. It’s direction is towards the center and it’s season is associated with the change between seasons. It is associated with adolescence. It is also related to the condition of dampness and with the sense of touch. The virtue of Earth is hope.

Having healthy Earth means having healthy digestion and avoiding excess carbohydrates and dampening or cold foods. It also means being able to think clearly and to process information effectively. Working on being grounded and taking time to concentrate on eating (without distractions) and focus the mind rather than multitask is important for the Earth phase.

Earth generates Metal and is generated by Fire. Earth controls Water and is controlled by Wood.

Metal (金 jīn)

The Metal phase is associated with the color white. Its yin organ is the Lung and its yang organ is the Large Intestine. The energy of Metal is harvesting and sifting. Metal is also about making and breaking bonds. The emotion associated with Metal is grief and sadness and the psychospiritual aspect of Metal is the po or the corporeal energy that is stored in the body and returns to the Earth upon death. It opens to the nose and  and is related to the skin and hair. It’s sound is weeping, it’s taste is pungent, and it’s smell is rotten. It’s direction is West and it’s season is Autumn. It is also related to condition of dryness and with the sense of smell. The virtue of Metal is honesty.

Having healthy Metal means having healthy breathing, healthy skin and hair, and a healthy colon and microbiome. Healthy Metal also means having healthy boundaries in relationships, being organized, and being able to let go when necessary (and to cry). Working on grief and on breathing deeply is important for the Metal phase.

Metal generates Water and is generated by Earth. Metal controls Wood and is controlled by Fire.

I hope this information is useful to you and inspires you to explore Chinese Medicine more deeply! Here is a lovely Qigong form that you can practice to balance the Five Phases:

Men’s Reproductive Health

CAUTION: Includes explicit topics related to men’s reproductive health.

As stated in the last articlemen are at a higher risk of developing jing deficiency through lifestyle than women.

In Chinese culture, it is considered harmful if a boy begins masturbating before puberty. This drains jing before the jing-boost that happens when a young man reaches sexual maturity. Also, many cultures have simply a more abstinent and sex-restrictive culture than those in the West. In both Vedic and Asian cultures, sex is traditionally something that is performed seldom but always with purpose. Sex strictly for the sake of “getting off” is largely a Western phenomenon. Sex is a sacred act and should be treated as such.

Men in Western culture would benefit greatly by learning the practice of retaining seminal fluid.

I encourage all men that I engage with on this topic to abstain from excessive loss of semen for the purpose of maintaining a healthy storage of jing. The Huangdi Neijing Suwen (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine) states that a man in his twenties should have sex no more frequently than once every four days. In his thirties, sex should be limited to once every 8 days; in this fourties, once every sixteen days; in his fifties, about once a month; and so on.

Seem like a tall order? Perhaps not if what the Neijing meant by “sex” was actually “ejaculation”. (I think they really did mean sex in general, but bear with me…)

I realize that here in the West, we like to have our cake and eat it too – and sex is one of life’s greatest joys. In light of this, one thing that a man can do is learn the art and science of non-ejaculatory orgasm, or semen retention. In Indian and East Asian cultures, this is not an alien concept. When a man works on this ability, he can achieve multiple male orgasm. Be forewarned, for many men this is an extremely challenging (but extremely rewarding) task and can take years before it is done correctly. Failure is easy and success largely depends on a man’s level of focus.

This practice is often considered inherent to the practice of Daoist Alchemy and some of the physiological understandings of it’s effects spring from that tradition. An integral part of this practice is partaking in qigong and breathwork. Kegel exercises are key. I sometimes make the hyperbolic remark when discussing kegels that “100 kegels per day just gets you in the club. 300 is bronze level membership.” Strong pubococcygeal muscles (the muscles used to stop oneself from urinating) are entirely necessary if you want to stop ejaculation from happening.

Want a tip? Try clenching your fist (only need one) or your jaw or even squeezing your eyes tightly while kegeling and see how long you can hold it. The sympathetic resonance between these contractory movements of multiple muscles at once will enhance your ability to focus on that activity. Kind of like how some weightlifters wear mouth-guards.

It is important that a man engages his mind and his body together in this process. Mindfulness meditation on the body can improve the coherence between one’s mind and body (especially along with Qigong). Practicing “edging”, either by oneself or with a partner, will greatly enhance one’s success with seminal retention by forcing one to be mindful of exactly what is meant by the term “climax”.

Just prior to climax the pubococcygeal muscles are tightened and strong breathing according to the Microcosmic Orbit is performed. The trick is in the timing. If the PC muscles are clenched too early or too late, the results can be undesirable (sometimes painful). If done correctly, seminal emissions will either be reduced or will be eliminated altogether (also called a dry orgasm), and the sexual, generative energy of the orgasm will be funneled into the Ren and Du channels of the Microcosmic Orbit and stored as a newly transformed form of jing rather than being lost. The man should notice more energy after a dry orgasm rather than the usual depletion of energy that happens after ejaculatory orgasm.

Be forewarned that this can also be dangerous. There exists such a thing called retrograde ejaculation where a man can accidentally ejaculate backwards into his bladder – and it is very painful (though it doesn’t cause long term damage).

I encourage any man who is interested in this kind of practice to research the work of Mantak Chia. You can find many of his books available online in PDF form for free, along with Youtube videos. The book I recommend the most is “Multi-Orgasmic Man“.

Men in our time and culture are in dire need of more spiritual and physical consciousness (and the blending of the two) if we are going to respected and honored for what we are – spiritual beings who’s endowment springs from the same sacred source as that of woman.

Any man who takes this challenge upon himself will be rewarded. Good luck.

Jing: The Substance of Vitality

Jing – it’s what you’re made of.

CAUTION: Includes explicit topics related to reproductive health.

In Chinese physiology, there is a substance that each of us possesses called jing – it’s often translated into English as “essence” or “vitality”. Jing is said to be stored in the kidneys and is believed to decline with age. In fact, the definition of aging in Chinese medicine is the loss of jing. Brittle bones, thin skin, hair loss, and cognitive decline are all symptoms of jing deficiency. Your jing is your genetic integrity and it is inherited from your parents. In this sense, congenital birth defects are also considered a jing deficiency.  This substance is a very yin substance and is said to be related to the Water element through it’s association with the Kidney. This makes sense, as Water has a relationship to one’s ancestors and to the past. Adequate jing is necessary for healthy reproduction and for sexual function. It is also necessary for growth and development, particularly of the bones and bone marrow. Going through puberty is like receiving a shot of stored jing from our kidneys.

Overwork, overthinking, age, and chronic oxidative damage are all things that can detract from one’s jing. Kidney yin deficiency and Kidney yang deficiency, if both present and profound enough, can equate to jing deficiency. It is considered a precious substance and is given to you at birth in a finite amount, so it’s best not to waste it by “burning the candle at both ends”. Whenever you work beyond your means (i.e. spend all the qi you have to give in a day and continue working), you drain your jing. It is said that whenever you go to bed without using up all your qi for that day, some of that qi gets transformed into jing – like change in a piggy bank.

To get at the importance of having a healthy storage of jing, I often compare it to a similar concept from another traditional healing system – Ayurveda. In Ayurvedic medicine, there is a substance believed to be contained in the heart called ojas. Each individual is born with only eight drops of ojas – when those eight drops are used up, the person dies.

There are some gender differences when it comes to jing-metabolism.

It is said that 100 drops of Blood is worth 1 drop of jing. This is where it gets more interesting – it is also said that 30 drops of semen is worth 1 drop of jing.

There are a few different statements being made here. One is that, the more yin a substance, the closer it’s relationship with jing. Semen is more yin than blood. It is also making the important point that men are at a higher risk of developing jing deficiency through lifestyle than women are.

Granted, childbearing is a remarkably jing-intensive process. However if a woman is careful and has prepared her body before bearing a child (by nourishing her blood and jing), then her jing will not suffer and both her and the baby will be healthy. When a woman’s body is not prepared to give birth, the baby pulls on the mother’s essence and women often lose bone density or teeth as a result of bearing a child. The biggest challenge for women is the cyclical loss of blood, which can have quite a pernicious effect on a woman’s health if not regulated and kept in balance. However, for men, the frequent and unregulated loss of semen, from the Chinese medical perspective, can pose much greater health risks – theoretically shortening a man’s life.

It is believed that the only way to nourish jing in Chinese Medicine is through qigong. So do your qigong!

For more information on how jing works in men and what they can do to prevent the loss of essence, see this article. (CAUTION: Explicit topics.)

Be good to your body. Take care of the vitality you were given.

Yin and Yang (and Their Imbalances)

Most of Chinese Medical theory can be distilled down to the dualistic concept of yin and yang. For example, the notion that any condition falls into the category of excess or deficient, or that it can present itself as hot or cold (Yang excess or Yang deficient), or dry or damp (Yin deficient or Yin excess) are all manifestations of this principle. Yin and yang are energetic, organizing forces in Nature but they are also treated as bodily substances in the body.

Yin and yang are polar opposites but they are in constant interaction. There are four main aspects that we apply to our understanding of yin and yang: opposition (they have opposite characteristics), interdependence (you can’t have one without the other), mutual consumption (too much of one will begin to consume the other), and intertransformation (too much of one can turn into the other).

This article will outline the substances of yin and yang in the body, signs and symptoms of their imbalances, and some lifestyle changes that can shift those imbalances back into a state of harmony.

Yin and its imbalances

Yin in the body is best thought of as substance. The energy of yin shares a relationship with water, cold, darkness, and stillness. It is inside rather than outside. It is fluid rather than firm. The bones are yin. The brain is yin. The blood and lymph are yin. Synovial fluid in the joints is yin. Simply put, yin is what your are made of.

Dampness (Yin Excess)

We refer to excess yin in the body as dampness. In it’s extreme form it becomes phlegm (esp. when in the presence of excess heat). Dampness occurs when we eat dampening or cold foods like bread or pasta, poor-quality dairy or ice cream, sweets, and raw vegetables. These foods are hard to digest and expend the yang energy that your body uses to transform food. When one’s body can’t transform food into the substances you are made of, it stores this untransformed substance as dampness or phlegm. Another prominent cause of dampness is living in a damp or humid environment. Signs of dampness are heavy limbs, weakness, cloudy thinking, runny nose or sputum, frequent urination, edema or bloating, and a lack of thirst. Things you can do to remedy dampness are remove the dampening foods from your diet and consume meals that are warm and thoroughly cooked, consume foods that are warming to the interior like ginger or chai tea, exercise and sweat, and get in the Sun.

Signs: Pale tongue that is swollen (side-to-side) and wet, pulse that is slippery and feels like a slithering snake or like rolling marbles

Yin Deficiency (False Heat)

When you have too little of what you are made of rather than too much, this is referred to as yin deficiency. When there is not enough substance to keep your tissues nourished and lubricated, then a sort of metabolic friction takes place. We refer to this symptom of heat as yin deficient heat or false heat rather than excess heat. It is referred to as “false” because it does not stem from excess (heat is excess by nature) but is instead a product of deficiency. This can be caused by overthinking, overwork, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, excessive sexual activity, drug use (esp. amphetamines), and antibiotics. Yin deficiency can cause night sweats, trouble falling asleep, dry mouth, skin, or eyes, constipation, and agitation. Yin deficiency can be corrected by eating well-cooked and nourishing meals (esp. high-quality raw dairy or kefir and animal products), adequate hydration, rest, and getting your bare feet on the ground.

Signs: Dry and cracked tongue, thin pulse that is tight like a guitar string

Yang and its imbalances

Yang in the body is best thought of as metabolic heat and is related to the warming, lifting, transforming, and preotecting functions of qi. Yang naturally goes up in the body. It is a substance that raises itself in clear form to the head to power clarity of consciousness. It’s activity is associated with movement and with heat.

Internal Heat (Yang Excess)

Too much yang energy in the body is referred to as excess heat and is usually a product of other pathology. Excess heat can happen in the blood, in the stomach or digestive system, on the skin, or in other organs. On the skin or inside the body it combines with dampness and can form what are thought of as infectious or necrotic conditions.When yang rises unnecessarily it can cause headaches, agitation, and a red complexion. Blood heat can cause acne, skin lesions, fever and agitation. In the digestive system it can cause heartburn, acid reflux, diarrhea or constipation, or inflammatory bowel conditions. In various organs it affects the function of that organ by either burning it up, possibly causing inflammation – like burning, strong-smelling, dark urine in the case of the bladder. Ways to clear heat are eating cooling food or drink, inducing a good bowel movement or urination, sweating, receiving acupuncture, or getting one’s bare feet on the ground.

Signs: Red tongue or tongue with red patches with a thick yellow coat or dry, and a forceful, pounding pulse

Yang Deficiency (Internal Cold)

When there’s not enough yang to warm the organs or to transform food into nourishment, there is a condition on yang deficiency or internal cold. Internal cold can also overlap with yin deficient heat. This is caused by stress, overwork, excessive sweating, exposure to severe cold, or eating a diet high in cold foods (like raw vegetables or ice cream). Symptoms are cold hands and feet, feeling of being cold inside and preferring warm weather or warm drinks, fatigue, and diarrhea or constipation (depending on other pathology). Ways to supplement yang are rest, eating well-cooked nourishing and warming foods, qigong, and getting one’s bare feet on the ground and bare body in the Sun.

Signs: Pale blue, swollen tongue, and a weak or slow pulse

I hope that these ways of thinking about Chinese medical pathology aid you in your journey towards a happy and healthy body, mind, and spirit.

Qi and Blood (and Their Imbalances)

Chinese Medicine is both a physiological and an energetic medicine. We deal primarily with what we call bodily substances. These are Qi, Blood, Yin, And Yang. Bodily substances can take more of an energetic form – as in Qi or Yang – or they can take a denser form – as in the case of Blood and Yin.

This article will cover Qi and Blood, the signs and symptoms of imbalance, and some simple lifestyle choices one can make to correct their imbalance. When reading this article, keep in mind that all Chinese Medicine understands pathology first and foremost in terms of excess or deficiency.

NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list and does not address the finer points of pathology and diagnosis in Chinese Medicine. It is recommended that you consult a practitioner to aid you in meeting your health goals.

Qi and its imbalances

For an entire article on Qi, check out What is Qi? Qi is the animating life force that sustains and mobilizes the functions of the body. The functions of Qi are to transport (Qi is what moves the Blood), transform (turning food into nourishment), hold (keeping your organs and Blood in place), protect (keeping pathogens out), lift (keeping your body upright) and warm (keeping your body nice and cozy).

Qi Stagnation

When the Qi of the body is not moving properly, it can become stagnant. This is an excess characteristic. Common things that cause Qi stagnation are a sedentary lifestyle, suppressing one’s emotions, too much dampness in the body (excess Yin), or not having enough Blood for the Qi to move (that’s its job). Symptoms of Qi stagnation are agitation and frustration, bloating, sighing, and dull aching or throbbing pain. Ways to relieve Qi stagnation naturally are exercise, expressing oneself, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Swollen tongue (up and down), tense or cottony pulse

Qi Deficiency

When there is not enough Qi in the body, we refer to this as Qi deficiency. Common things that cause Qi deficiency are overwork, poor diet (leading to blood deficiency), poor digestion, and sleep deprivation. Symptoms are weak and heavy limbs, general fatigue, getting sick easily, poor digestion (which is also a cause) with loose stools, dull pain that is better with pressure, arrhythmia, bruising easily, trouble staying asleep, spontaneous sweating, shortness of breath, and prolapse. Ways to tonify Qi are eating nourishing and easily-digested foods, rest, and getting your bare feet on the ground. Qi tonics like green tea are also helpful!

Signs: Pale or swollen tongue (side to side) with thick coat and scalloped sides, a pulse that changes amplitude, where the vessel walls feel diffuse or feel like a thinly rolled cigarette

Blood and its imbalances

Blood is that which carries nutrients to tissues and what, in Chinese Medicine, is responsible for housing the mind and storing memories. This is why after a profoundly Blood-moving treatment, patients can experience a resurgence of old memories. Consequently, most treatments geared towards treating trauma in Chinese medicine involve Blood invigoration. Qi and Blood are intertwined. In Chinese Medicine it is said that Blood is the mother of Qi, and Qi commands it’s mother. In other words, you can’t have Qi without Blood, but Qi is what tells Blood where to go.

Blood Stagnation

Blood stagnation happens when the blood isn’t moving properly. This ultimately leads to thick, clotty blood. In Chinese Medicine, Blood stagnation is the most pernicious of all pathologies, but often only occurs with age or with circulatory problems. Blood stagnation can lead to fixed, stabbing pain that is better with movement and worse with rest (as it is an excess condition). Varicose veins and high blood pressure can be signs of Blood stagnation. Blood stagnation can also be cause by toxicity or toxic exposure. Ways to relieve Blood stagnation are exercise, working through old trauma, and getting in the Sun.

Signs: Purple tongue with thick, engorged veins underneath, a choppy pulse that feels grainy or rough like sandpaper

Blood Deficiency

Blood deficiency is a common pathology, but can be quite pernicious as well. Blood deficiency happens when there is not enough blood to nourish the tissues or for the mind to function well. Causes of Blood deficiency are poor diet (lacking in blood nourishing foods, esp. animal products), poor digestion (being unable to transform food into blood), sudden traumatic loss of blood, heavy periods, and overthinking. Symptoms of Blood deficiency are weakness, pale skin, numbness, dizziness, scanty periods, being easily startled or frightful, and the feeling of being small. Ways to nourish Blood are to eat a Blood nourishing diet (rich in iron and animal products), abstain from giving blood, rest (conserving one’s Qi in order to make more blood), and to both get your bare feet on the ground and your body in the Sun.

Signs: Pale or small tongue (esp. with pale sides), a pulse that feels narrow or thin

I hope these concepts help you to understand some of the fundamentals underlying the practice of Chinese Medicine. This knowledge can empower you to create a lifestyle that brings your body better into harmony with nature and promotes your wellbeing.

What is Qigong?

Qigong is a form of energetic exercise that arises from an ancient Chinese tradition of martial arts and meditative movement practices. Qigong is actually a modern term that originated in the mid 20th century to describe the enormous variety of Chinese energetic exercises that had developed over the past several millenia. Taichi (or taiji chuan) is the more popular, more complex cousin of Qigong and is a true martial art. They both arise out of ancient practice of what is called daoyin, which is simply a “way of movement”, but encompasses any movement practice for health purposes, including self-massage and other physical exercises. Qigong is less of a martial art and more of a meditative practice intended to exercise the mind and strengthen and invigorate the qi. Qigong literally means “energy work” or “breath work”. One big difference between Taichi and Qigong is that there are generally more complex movements in Taichi and many of the movements involve the feet. In the majority of Qigong practices, the feet are often stationary and the hands do the movement. Some Qigong practices are simply meditative postures that don’t require movement at all. Sometimes people even make up their own energetic movements as part of their Qigong practice – this is called spontaneous Qigong.

The purpose of Qigong is to increase health and extend life. In Chinese medical theory, some believe that the only way to increase one’s pre-heaven essence is through Qigong – this is a profound statement. For some, sitting meditation can be difficult as it can be challenging to stand still for extended time. The practice of Qigong offers a fantastic alternative to sitting meditation in that it enables one to meditate while moving one’s body. This confers all the benefits of meditation plus the benefits of bodily awareness (mindfulness) and better postural practices. The same can be said for Taichi. Some Qigong exercises can be quite vigorous and either stretch and strengthen the muscles and joints or invigorate blood flow through the active movement of the body.

I have a saying that I often use in trying to explain the what I think is purpose of Qigong:

How strongly you can feel the qi in your hands is directly related to your level of success in your Qigong practice.

What I mean by this is to point out the importance of Qigong being first-and-foremost a mental exercise. It is a moving meditation on the life force energy that penetrates all of matter and encompasses the entire universe. To learn more about the nature of qi, click here.

The experience of qi can occur to different individuals in drastically different ways. This is due to your unique energy field and your relationship and role to play in the greater energy field in which we live. Generally, when one practices Qigong the experience of feeling the qi in one’s hands can be felt as

  • heat
  • cold
  • buzzing
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • heaviness
  • softness
  • magnetic (like your hands are magnets, either attracting or repelling)
  • electrical
  • flowing (like water)
  • spinning
  • pressure

and other sensations.

For some, this sensation comes easily and they might have profound qi sensations the first time they practice. To other, experiences the movement and the feeling of qi through Qigong takes time and work. Regardless of how it manifests for you – don’t give up. Every second you take out of your day to practice Qigong will improve your life.

The following video is one of my favorites to get people into the Qigong mindset:

I find Roger Jahnke’s work to be some of the very best. In my humble opinion, Roger Jahnke has “got it right” in his attitude towards the practice of Qigong. Regardless of one’s level of skill and regardless of what form (the particular set of exercises) one practices, we can always adopt the kind of attitude that Jahnke does – one of reverance,  meditation, and prayer – when we engage in the practice of Qigong. I think this will lead to deeper and longer lasting results.

There is much more to say about the practice of Qigong. Have a blessed journey in your practice of Qigong. I believe it is truly foundational in a deeper experience of life and will open up many doors to you.

What is Qi?

This is one of the most important topics on this website.

Qi (also written chi) is a complex Chinese term that has a number of meanings. It is most often translated as “breath” or “energy“, but can also refer to the weather, the mood of a certain day, things having to do with air, oxygen, or gas, and a persons attitude. This relationship between qi and breath points to the critical role of breathing when getting in touch with qi. The ancient Chinese character for qi is said to pictographically represent the steam that rises and falls from a cooking pot of rice.

In Chinese metaphysics, everything in the universe is a manifestation of qi. The universe even “before creation” itself was still qi. Qi is the universal substance of which all matter and space is composed. It is the substrate of reality itself.

This notion of a universal substance – qi – brings ancient Chinese philosophy in resonance with a formidable idea that permeates much of ancient history and still feeds a powerful undercurrent within both scientific and popular philosophy today – the notion of vitalism. Vitalism is the belief in a universal life force that penetrates all matter and animates all life. In English we might call it a “universal life force energy” or simply a “vital force”, but this very concept has taken so many forms throughout history that it would be quite a challenge to make an exhaustive list. However, here are a few: qi (Chinese), prana (Vedic), reiki or ki (Japanese), ruach (Hebrew), od (Norse), pneuma (Greek), mana (Polynesian), elan vital (French), the Force (Star Wars – just kidding but kinda not really) and many more.

The philosophy of vitalism used to play a fundamental role in the mind of the physician. It wasn’t until the 20th century that vitalism was almost entirely stamped out from the philosophical education of physicians in North America. The medical profession used to be much more based in faith in the body’s natural healing process rather than in the power of drugs and surgery. The ancient Greek notion of “vis medactrix naturae” or the “healing power of nature” drove the idea that, if given enough time and support and proper nourishment, the body has a way of bringing itself back into balance on it’s own. This underlies the idea that there is an intelligent life force that drives the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the individual. The adherence to this philosophy is, I believe, the most fundamental factor that divides the approaches of mechanistic biomedicine and holistic medicine. Western medicine was actually founded on this idea by the ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen, but this theory as well as many of the physiological understandings of the ancient world are considered obsolete in the eyes of conventional materialistic science.

This idea of an all-pervasive life force energy isn’t accepted by the mainstream scientific community. However, contrary to popular opinion, this is not for lack of evidence. Our world is replete both with scientific evidence and with anecdotal evidence. Quantum physics tells us that at the super sub-atomic level, the universe is an incredibly dense sea of literally pure energy (see my article on MakingtheMedicine.com). The phenomenon of psi is actually a well-supported fact with decades of research demonstrating it – telepathy, psychokinesis, and remote viewing all have tremendous support in scientific literature (see Dean Radin’s work or the book The Field by Lynne McTaggart). There are a number of phenomena that point to the existence of bioenergetic fields surrounding the bodies of living organisms, especially around humans (Kirlian photography, biophoton emission, etc.). The beneficial effects of faith healing, prayer, and Reiki are also well-supported. The laying on of hands of Christians and of ancient Greek followers of Asclepius are ancient examples of healing using this knowledge. The sensation of qi is common to many people who practice energywork or do taichi, qigong, or yoga.

What’s so important about this article is that to take the notion of qi seriously is to awaken to an entirely different worldview with entirely different possibilities than the ones we’ve been handed by Western materialism. It gives solid foundation to the idea that we are indeed deeply connected and that the substance from which we are made – pure energy – is the same everywhere.

Now that you’ve read up on qi, consider learning about how to use it through Qigong.

If you are interested in taking this discussion deeper, check out this website..