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In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the act of judgment as a state of mind is not inherently negative. Our minds all have a framework for judgment that is so vital for survival, it is an ingrained part of us, not something learned or trained. For an evolutionary example, think to when our ancestors were arboreal. They had to be able to discern the stable branch from the bough about to break; when a fruit was ripe enough to eat; if the boss-monkey was going to help them eat said fruit, or toss them from the tree to keep all the fruit to himself.

As we evolved, this framework for judgment evolved with us. As our brains became more complex and our sense of self-awareness grew into a bonafide ego, our capacity for judgment grew to cover a much broader range of topics. Where we once merely possessed self-awareness, judging ourselves as separate from the environment, now we had the capacity for self-judgment and thereby self-loathing. So too, we went from being able to judge the current attitudes of our fellow creatures to judging them as good or bad people in a permanent sense. Thus was born the capacity for castigation, it flowed naturally from survival cognition.

Ancient Chinese philosophy is based upon observance of Nature. This is not just plants and animals, but the patterns in the Heavens above, upon the Earth below, and in the mind, body, and spirit of the people in between. Yin-yang theory and five phase theory are relative categorical abstractions based on universal observation. Traditional Chinese Medicine grew out of the matrix of ancient Chinese philosophy, and though it has evolved continually over the millenia, it is still at its heart yin-yang theory and five phase theory as they are applied to health and wellness.

In TCM, judgment is understood as a function of Reverting Yin (jueyin). According to the yin-yang symbol, Reverting Yin is the little black circle inside the white whorl. Yin is receptive, it takes things in, while yang is assertive, it sends things out. Judgment requires taking in sensation (yin), then issuing an opinion in response (yang).

When we are judging ourselves harshly, this is not an alien behavior, it is merely our normal judgmental frame of mind functioning out of balance; judgment in a pathological state. The reasons for this can be due to yin being deficient, which means our focus is too narrow. This could possibly present as fixating on the negative traits and beliefs our judgment has declared, at the expense of seeing the positive. The same can happen with regards to other people.

Another possibility for judgment out of balance could be yang stagnation, where yang is the issuing of opinions and yin is reflection on the data. If the issued opinions happen reflexively, instantly, without pausing to consider the ideas presented, the yang aspect of judgment has become stagnant; it is stuck in issuing-opinions mode.

According to five phase theory of traditional Chinese philosophy, judgment is of the Wood stage, which is nourished by the Water phase. If the Water phase is deficient or stagnant, then the Wood phase is insufficiently nourished, which creates a state of pathological imbalance for judgment. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Water stage corresponds to our will.i When our willpower is weak, we are in a state of fear. We come to conclusions too quickly, in a state of abject surrender or one of mindless retreat. We cannot pause to consider, nor have a broad view of the situation because our minds are overcome by fright.

Social structures take advantage of our ingrained judgmental state of mind by promoting codes of conduct against which to judge ourselves. They do not cause us to judge ourselves, that is something we are readily doing all of the time. Society just needs to give us the criteria, and then whenever our judgment goes out of balance, we will judge ourselves and others too harshly. This perpetuates the state of imbalance within the Lesser Yin-Wood aspect of our minds, which can then result in the states of depression and anger. Depression and anger are also manifestation of the Lesser Yin-Wood aspect out of balance. They can therefore easily imbalance judgment, which creates a vicious cycle (something that happens a lot within TCM).

This is not to say that we (and others) are incapable of being wrathful, vain, slothful, gluttonous, etc. Sometimes when we come to the conclusion that we (and others) are bad people, we do so because our judgment was out of balance. Other times, our judgment of negativity is balanced and accurate. TCM posits that it is not wrong to have a negative judgment of oneself or others, only that when coming to a negative conclusion, be diligent about your state of mind. Is your judgment balanced, or was it obscured by fear, depression, or anger?


iIn yin-yang philosophy the will is part of the Lesser Yin (xiaoyin), which is the narrowing aspect of the black whorl on the yin-yang symbol.

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Basics for Health

1) Move every two hours. Go for a walk, do a set of mindful pushups, play with dogs, children, and friends. Do this daily, without exception. When ill, just stretch and breath deeply, when feeling good, do something more strenuous.

2) Don’t eat processed foods. Ever. For any reason. This way, when you must, in an airplane, at grandma’s, etc., it will be the only time in a long time.

3) Perform mindful breathing. Stand and breathe deeply, not forcefully. Try tai chi and qigong. Do this at least once a day for five minutes or more. A discipline like this will make you better at doing all the things you love. Discipline is most certainly not a four letter word!

4) Once a day or more, think of things about which you are grateful and say a silent thank you for them.

5) Get acupuncture before a problem gets really bad, be it pain or stress, or GI discomfort. It is always best to deal with something when it is still small.

6) Have a nice day! For a much larger discussion of these principles, I dispensed with brevity here.

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Chop an apple into cubes, removing the core. Place chopped apples into a saucepan with 1 cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes.

After simmering for 10 minutes, add oatmeal and additional water (1 cup oatmeal = 1-3 additional cups of water, to taste).

A pinch of salt, and several shakes of cinnamon (to taste). Stir in a half teaspoon of honey.

Simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, dependent upon on desired consistency.

Oatmeal is not a complete protein. Therefore, it is necessary to eat it with nuts (almonds, walnuts), sugar free yogurt, or have some meat or a couple eggs on the side (any style). An inadequate amount of protein in the morning will set us up for a sugar roller-coaster for the rest of the day, i.e. that ravenous feeling that strikes about an hour before lunch and then again in the middle of the afternoon, then again before dinner, and once more before bed. Craving sweets at these times of the day indicates an insufficient amount of protein for breakfast and lunch, not as is popularly erroneously believed, a sweet tooth.

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Despite the physiological discrepancy, no condition is closer to my heart than knee pain. I found Eastern medicine by shredding the cartilage of my knee. I had surgery to repair the damage, but the physical therapy didn’t work out so well, and within a few weeks my knee was the size of a basketball. Months of crutching about led to yet more months wielding a cane. Add in the strain to my low back and hip muscles from the compensation, and at 25 I was rocking out the full old-timer, complete with cloudy disposition and an impressive ratio of grumps per day. After half a year of this, I found myself relocated to San Diego from Connecticut. It didn’t take long for me to find tai chi, which enabled the miracle of miracles by unlocking my body’s innate healing ability that modern physiological science had been unable to reach.

Two years of tai chi later, I found myself in school for acupuncture & Eastern herbs. At this point my knee had regained full functionality (it actually worked a bit better than before the surgery), but I still had some shooting, stabbing pain when especially active. Then there was the meteorologist that had moved into my knee, alerting me to barometric changes with dull aches. Long mornings in the cold ocean waiting for waves got that meteorologist humming, too. It was the perfect home experiment!

Every night after school I pulled out my books and notes and set to work on my knee. I wasn’t very skilled in the beginning, in fact I was rather dreadful. But I stuck with it, and gradually my needle technique grew less painful. However, my knee started to feel better right away. By the second semester, I hardly needed any needles in my knee at all.

I like to say that I specialize in anything interesting, but my first project was my knee, and as such, the aspect of Eastern medicine with which I am most familiar, is knee pain. It is then with great delight that I can share this study on osteoarthritis of the knee from the People’s Hospital of Peking University in Beijing.

The points used in the study on all 73 participants are almost exactly the same ones that I used on my knee. Of the 49 people who completed the four week study, all had improvement in their knees, and that improvement was sustained after the four week followup visit. There was no control arm. The study assumes acupuncture works, and is testing a particular protocol. Admittedly, a study in which every participant improves is a bit suspect, which is a reason why some meta-analysis studies regard acupuncture’s success as inconclusive. [Commence digression] However, the studies then go on to conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work, which is as intellectually irresponsible as designing a study that allows for 100% improvement. The world of acupuncture research and research on acupuncture is still in its fledgling stages, and these are the growing pains–ones that acupuncture can treat! [Digression concluded]

I still use the bulk of these points for my knee pain treatments, but I change up the other points to customize the treatment to the individual. A scientific study by nature has to use the same points from person to person, but our bodies are all different, and as such, the pain of the knee and surrounding structures changes from person to person. Acupuncture works best when it is customized, but it can still work when homogenized. The knee is especially suited to homogenization of treatment, given that the reason for the problem is essentially the same from person to person, and the location of pain changes only slightly. The source of knee pain is almost always within the knee and surrounding muscles, so needling the points around the knee works very well. Something like carpal tunnel syndrome on the other hand can stem from the neck, shoulder, and elbow, so it is more difficult to design a standardized treatment that effectively treats it equally in all cases.

Furthermore, from a point function perspective, two of the points used in the study are very commonly used by acupuncturists to improve metabolism and boost energy. Though the source for knee pain is usually within the knee joint, poor posture of the whole body and sloppy ergonomics will put more strain on the knee to exacerbate the pain. With this increase in energy, it is easier to maintain proper posture and gait. Another of the knee points used in the study is used by many acupuncturists for almost every condition involving tendons, which are a major component of any joint. These dual purposes reflect the local and systemic nature of acupuncture points. All points will benefit local problems, i.e. the point in the middle of the wrist crease benefits carpal tunnel syndrome. Then there are the systemic actions of the points, wonderfully illustrated in this study using brain imaging. In essence, acupuncture points stimulate parts of the brain that are associated with many of the problems the points are traditionally purported to treat. The People’s Hospital of Peking University study uses points that are local (on the knee) which also positively affect health of the body in a way that supports recovery from osteoarthritis of the knee. This is a study of a treatment strategy that is incredibly simple and elegant. It is no wonder that it garnered positive results.

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    Allergy season is upon us, and there was recently an article on Time.com reporting on a study about acupuncture and allergies.
    The conclusion of the study was that “Acupuncture led to statistically significant improvements in disease-specific quality of life and antihistamine use measures after 8 weeks of treatment compared with sham acupuncture and with [cetirizine (i.e. Zyrtec and Reactine)] alone, but the improvements may not be clinically significant.”
    Sham acupuncture is when needles are not placed in relevant points on the body. It is used as a control group in acupuncture studies. I am not alone in the acupuncture world to be itching for acupuncture studies that compare acupuncture point prescriptions against one another, for there are many different strategies to treat allergies, as opposed to compare real acupuncture against sham acupuncture.
    Real acupuncture in a clinical trial is not quality acupuncture by any stretch of the imagination. Acupuncture works the best when the points selected are customized to an individual. Acupuncture does not function like medication, which is exactly the same composition of chemicals for each patient. Acupuncture points that work well for one person may do nothing for another, and vice versa. An acupuncture study, in attempts to maintain the “gold standard” of blinded control studies, uses the exact same point prescription for every patient. Therefore, acupuncture will frequently produce clinically insignificant results when practiced in a study, because a study by intention does not practice clinical acupuncture.
    Acupuncture is an expensive way to treat allergies, so it is probably only an avenue of pursuit for those who do not respond to, do not wish to, or are unable to take medications. There are Eastern herbal formula designed to treat allergies, which work well in conjunction with acupuncture, which can cut down on the number of visits required and mitigate the cost.

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Acupuncture has a long, storied history, and is useful in treating a wide array of ailments. Unlike medications or cortizone injections, acupuncture does not have a specific function, per se, the way aspirin treats pain, calcium tablets treat excess stomach acid, and antihystamines treat inflammation. Acupuncture is a tool with which to practice Traditional Eastern Medicine, and as such can be effectively used to treat pain, acid reflux, and inflammation depending on where the needles are placed on the body.

Traditional Eastern Medicine is based on principles and concepts that are unverifiable with modern science. This has quite rightly led many people in the west to view acupuncture with skepticism. However, acupuncture and Traditional Eastern Medical concepts have persisted from the miasma of prehistory into the twenty-first century despite modern science’s inability to explain how it works. More people in more regions of the world are enjoying its benefits than ever before, and it is gaining recognition in the medical community as it undergoes more rigorous scientific observationcontrolled clinical trials, as well as good old fashioned empiricism. All this despite no one being able to give a scientific explanation to its mode of operation, to prove how it works.

Traditional Eastern Medicine was developed long before the scientific method, and is not based on a scientific framework as much as it is on a philosophical one. It has been refined as much by court physicians in the great empires of Asia as by “barefoot doctors” wandering from village to village. This is not to say that TEM does not gladly incorporate science, just that it is first and foremost a philosophy based on Nature and Yin and Yang theory. Therefore, it is my belief that we will probably never have a satisfactory scientific explanation of acupuncture and TEM, just as we will never have a scientific explanation of virtue, morality, and music. Although we can certainly describe many facets of these concepts with science, their essence cannot be distilled into a molecular model or mathematical formula. So it is with acupuncture.

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Tai Yang / Greater Yang = big white part

Shao Yang / Lesser Yang  = small white part

Yang Ming / Yang Brightness = white circle

Tai Yin / Greater Yin = big black part

Shao Yin / Lesser Yin = small black part

Jue Yin / Reverting Yin = black circle

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Chinese name for the yin-yang symbol is the “Grand Ultimate Map” (tai ji tu). As its name implies, it is a description of the changes of states in which all phenomena are expressed. Yin and Yang are categories into which the myriad things can be ascribed.

The Chinese character for Yin was originally comprised of the character for the shady part of a hill, while the character for Yang included the character for the sunny part of a hill. The modern simplified characters involve the moon for yin, and the sun for yang, as they are far easier to write (at least for a westerner like me). The old characters do a great job of illustrating the concepts for categorization.

The shady side of a hill relative to the sunny side is wetter, darker, cooler, lower, and the earth falls into it (gathers). The sunny side of a hill relative to the shady side is drier, brighter, hotter, higher, and the earth falls away from it (disperses). These initial descriptors do a decent job of establishing the parameters for yin-yang delineation. Though we speak of separating phenomena into yin or yang categories, it should be remembered that nothing can be a yin concept without an attending relative yang concept, and vice versa. The little circles within the greater teardrops emphasize this point.

So is water always yin and fire always yang? Yes, but water can have yang aspects, such as the capacity to wear away rocks, while fire can have yin concepts, such as bending around logs. Some aspects of water are more yin than others, i.e. a still pool versus a raging river. So too are there examples of fire behaving more yang than other fire, i.e. running up a tree versus a smoldering coal.

The six divisions of yin and yang are a way of distinguishing the present state of a phenomena in its expression of yin or yang.

Greater Yang: This is the state of maximum yang. It is the most apparent, the zenith, and a great mover & shaker. Something in Greater Yang expression is expanding as quickly as possible. It is outward moving, expanding, and centrifugal force. In Eastern medical theory it represents what we call in English the Urinary Bladder and Small Intestine meridians and the posterior/dorsal aspect of the body.

Lesser Yang: The state of yang where its actions are not as obviously yang as they are in the Greater Yang. It is the pivot, for if we use the analogy of a lever, the input of force (the handle) is Greater Yang, and the output of force (the bit moving the heavy object) is Greater Yang, for these are both sites of great action. The fulcrum/pivot point acts on the lever in a way that changes the force from one end to the other depending on the relative distance. This is a contained force that doesn’t get into the heavy object, but changes the way the input force does. Lesser Yang is an active yang, rather than a passive yin, but its actions are obscured by the actions of Greater Yang, although they are not hidden. In Eastern Medical theory it represents the Gall Bladder and Triple Burner meridians and the lateral aspects of the body.

Yang Brightness: This is Yang behaving in a Yin fashion. The Sun casts light and warmth, and is about as yang as it gets. When the full moon reflects the light of the sun, we get light (albeit reduced) but do not detect any warmth. The same can be said of the sun reflecting off the ocean, it may hurt the eyes, but we don’t particularly feel anything. Where the Greater Yang Sun moves across the sky, the Lesser Yang’s presence allows for changes, the Yang Brightness creates movement through yin concepts like contraction. In this way it is the basis/foundation of Greater Yin. It is conveyance, moving other objects, not moving itself. This is best exemplified by the intestines conducting a bolus of food, the biological force we call peristalsis. In Eastern medical theory it represents the Stomach and Large Intestine meridians, and the anterior aspect of the body.

Greater Yin: This is the state of maximum yin. It is a vacuum; the vacuum of space, the lower pressure differential that draws air into the lungs. When we see yin at work in our environment we are witnessing the Greater Yin. It is obscuring like mist, dark like the deep trenches of the ocean. It is centripetal force, gathering and condensing. It is a phenomena at its nadir. In Eastern medical theory it is the Lung and Spleen/Pancreas meridians, and the most lateral of the medial aspects of the body.

Lesser Yin: What lies behind the scenes. Greater Yin is the yin aspects of nature where, though invisible, we can see its effect, while Lesser Yin is the aspect of nature that remains totally hidden. In a body it is the bones, in a film it is the physical script. If Greater Yin is the vacuum, then Lesser Yin is the absolute void without a force or material presence made manifest. In Eastern medical theory it is the Heart and Kidney meridians, the most medial of the medial aspects of the body.

Reverting Yin: This is the state of transition from the inward movement of yin into the outward expansion of yang. When the Universe collapses inwards on itself, condenses to a minuscule point, and then “bangs” out again, this is the action of Reverting Yin. In this way, the Reverting Yin functions as the basis/foundation of Greater Yang. In Eastern medical theory it is the Liver and Pericardium meridians.

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Shen is the Chinese word for spirit. Unlike the western connotations of spirit, which may focus on the intangible and unknowable soul, shen incorporates the mind. The shen is rooted in the Heart, which incorporates the organ, but also has the ‘poetic’ elements of the heart as well. When there is a disorder of the spirit, or a “shen disorder” in Eastern medicine, we are speaking of the complete spectrum of emotional and intellectual disorders, save depression and grief, which are provinces of the wood and metal phases respectively. However, depression and grief still  involve the shen, just not as directly as say schizophrenia.

Mania is a shen disorder where the spirit is agitated by excessive heat, usually from the yang ming channel, or fire pouring into the Heart from the Liver. Catatonia is an extreme example of ‘insubstantial phlegm’ misting over the sensory orifices and blocking the shen’s access to the external world. A less severe manifestation of this is someone who looks glazed over in the eyes and seems confused or distracted.

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Qi is synergistic function as it is perceived by the aspect of our consciousness that is responsible for intuition. It is often spoken of as energy, and elaborated upon with metaphors of water, but this is merely to facilitate explanation. Energy is capable of transforming into matter and back again, but qi does not do this. It also does not register on the electromagnetic spectrum. Indeed, yin and yang qi is understandable as the positive and negative aspect of magnetism.

The very first line of the section of the Dao De Jing that talks about the Dao (“The Way”) says that “the way that can be spoken of is not the true Way.” Or as Alan Watts puts it, “The course that can be discoursed is not the true Course.” The same holds true of qi. If we think qi is anything like the metaphors we use to discuss qi, we miss the point entirely and go clamoring after illusions and fancies. The best way, in my opinion, to understand qi is experientially. This is not satisfactory for a discerning mind of science, I know, and to this objection there are two things I can say:

1) There are phenomena which are capable of being experienced and understood in a purely rational manner, and then there are the phenomena which arrive only through intuition. Barring the notion that intuition is the result of complex lateral calculations and processing we cannot yet understand, which is still speculation despite its deference to reason, intuitive phenomena deserve to be treated as possessing categorical differences from rational ones. In this approach, qi is a quality of intuition that communicates with rational phenomena, but is not itself of reason. Our senses and mental processes grounded in reason cannot perceive it, but this does not mean it is not there. There is a rational system for qi to follow, yin-yang theory, which it always follows. Thus, qi itself is perfectly rational in functioning, though it is something outside of reason. A reasonably unreasonable phenomenon.

2) Assuming intuition is a category of rational thought that we are yet unable to trace and understand, qi would then be an imagined variable that allows a system to work. Eastern medicine relies on qi, which may be how the ancients explained nerves and hormones, which for some reason are capable of being influenced by putting needles in the body at certain places, which do not have to be the same two points for the same results.

My study of this topic, both written and experiential, has led me to a conclusion with much more in common with the first point. I invite skeptics to give these healing arts a fair shot by placating their inner critic with one or both of these points. Belief or acceptance of qi has nothing to do with their efficacy, but it is a fascinating area of study.

That said, acupuncture, Eastern herbalism, Tai chi & qi gong all operate on the level of qi. Yoga describes this as prana, which is translated as breath energy. Try some daoist breathing and see where it takes you!

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