Wilhelm Reich – Putting the Body In Mind-Body Healing, Part 1

Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich

During this series on The Roots of Healing, I’ve been writing about different systems of medicine and healing. The last article in this series was on homeopathy.

Today I will veer away from discussing systems of healing to discuss a pioneer in the field, someone who put the body back in mind-body medicine.

His name was Wilhelm Reich, and he was a man far ahead of his time, but unfortunately he is for the most part forgotten.

Born in 1897 in the part of Europe that was once the Austro-Hungarian empire, he went to medical school and became a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. In the 1920s he became a protege of Sigmund Freud, and was considered one of his top underlings.

Yet as the years progressed, Reich saw limitations in the traditional psychotherapeutic approach, and felt that just working with the mind was insufficient in helping people free themselves of their burdens. He maintained that the body needed to be involved in psychotherapy also, and he founded the entire approach of body-centered psychotherapy, of which to this day there are many schools of thought.

Thus, the entire realm of mind-body medicine has Wilhelm Reich to thank, because he was willing to break with the convention and doctrine of his time and take medicine and healing into new frontiers.

Treating the whole person, so prevalent now, was radical for his time and is what Wilhelm Reich pioneered

Treating the whole person, so prevalent now, was radical for his time and is what Wilhelm Reich pioneered

Many well-known psychiatrists and psychologists followed Reich’s lead and developed new body-centered psychotherapies.

The first generation of Reich followers were such people as Alexander Lowen, who developed Bioenergetic Analysis; Fritz Perls, who developed Gestalt Therapy; Arthur Janov, who developed Primal Therapy; and Ida Rolf, who developed Rolfing.

Thus, without the pioneering work of Wilhelm Reich, there would have been none of these other breakthrough therapies.

Yet today, Reich is sadly forgotten. Part of that is because he died in jail a broken man, in 1957 at the age of 60, completely humiliated by the U.S. government. He was sentenced to two years in prison in 1956, for the crime of inventing something called an orgone energy accumulator, which he claimed could heal illness and restore a person’s energy field.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated the orgone accumulator and decided it had no merit, and put a cease order on their sales. When an associate of Reich’s violated the order by selling some, the FDA came after Reich and threw him in jail.

Also in 1956, in conjunction with Reich being jailed, in one of the worst incidents of censorship in U.S. history, several tons of Reich’s publications were burned by the FDA.

Reich was living in Germany in 1933 when Hitler and the Nazis came to power, and he immediately left, going to Vienna, then Scandinavia, and then eventually settling in the U.S. in 1939.

His pioneering work broke many taboos of psychiatry. The field was dominated by the work of Freud, and focused on individual neuroses. But Reich was more interested in character structure.

From 1930 onwards, Reich became more interested in his patients’ physical responses during therapy sessions, and toward the late 1930s, he began to treat patients outside the limits of psychoanalysis’s restrictions, though well within the scope of general medicine.

In 1956, Wilhelm Reich was arrested by the FDA

In 1956, Wilhelm Reich was arrested by the FDA

He began to sit next to his patients, rather than behind them, in order to make stronger “contact.” He started touching them, to both increase awareness of tension and contraction and to relieve it directly. He began talking to them, answering their questions, rather than the stock, “Why do you ask?” analyst’s response.

From a psychoanalytic point of view, this undermined the position of neutrality. The analyst is meant to be a blank screen onto which the patient projects his old desires, his loves, his hates, his neurosis—a process known as transference.

Reich wrote that the psychoanalytic taboos reinforced the neurotic taboos of the patient. He slowly broke away from them, writing that he wanted his patients to see him as human.

He would press hard on their “body armor,” his thumb or the palm of his hand pressing on their jaws, necks, chests, backs, or thighs, aiming to dissolve their physical and mental rigidity. He wanted to see their movements soften, their breathing ease.

This dissolution of the “body armor” also brought back the repressed memory of the childhood situation that had caused the repression, he wrote. If the session worked as intended, he wrote that he could see waves of pleasure move through their bodies, a series of spontaneous, involuntary movements. Reich called these the “orgasm reflex.”

The two goals of Reichian therapy became the attainment of this orgasm reflex during therapy, and orgastic potency during intercourse. Reich called the flow of energy that he said he observed in his patients’ bodies, “bio-electricity.”

He felt this could free their body, mind and emotions, and lead to a full recovery of their health problems.

And herein is where Reich touched a raw nerve: he delved into the taboo area of sex in a way that Freud had never. Whereas libido and sexual repression was an important part of Freudian psychology, it was all still conceptual, and the work with patients was all conventional psychotherapy.

Reich took it one step further, and worked with people to break free of what he called the body armor, the holding patterns that caused rigidity of the body, mind and emotions.

Reich’s work was like a breath of fresh air for 1940s America, and he enjoyed a largely uncritical press in the U.S. Along with that, his psychoanalytic theories were taught in universities and discussed in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Psychiatry.

To be continued next time…

A Look at Homeopathy, Part 4

homeopathic-remedies1The four-part article on homeopathy concludes today with a continuation from last time on the topic of homeopathic remedies.

In case you missed the other three articles in this series on homeopathy, here are the links to the other articles:
A Look at Homeopathy, Part 1
A Look at Homeopathy, Part 2
A Look at Homeopathy, Part 3

Dilution debate

Not all homeopaths advocate extremely high dilutions. Many of the early homeopaths were originally doctors and generally used lower dilutions such as “3X” or “6X”, rarely going beyond “12X”. The split between lower and higher dilutions followed ideological lines. Those favoring low dilutions stressed pathology and a strong link to conventional medicine, while those favoring high dilutions emphasised vital force, miasms and a spiritual interpretation of disease.

Some products with such relatively lower dilutions continue to be sold, but like their counterparts, they have not been conclusively demonstrated to have any effect beyond the placebo effect.

Provings

Samuel Hahnemann experimented on himself and others for several years before using remedies on patients. His experiments did not initially consist of giving remedies to the sick, because he thought that the most similar remedy, by virtue of its ability to induce symptoms similar to the disease itself, would make it impossible to determine which symptoms came from the remedy and which from the disease itself.

463017_f260Therefore, sick people were excluded from these experiments. The method used for determining which remedies were suitable for specific diseases was called proving, after the original German word Prüfung, meaning “test”. A homeopathic proving is the method by which the profile of a homeopathic remedy is determined.

At first Hahnemann used material doses for provings, but he later advocated proving with remedies at a 30C dilution, and most modern provings are carried out using ultradilute remedies in which it is highly unlikely that any of the original molecules remain.

During the proving process, Hahnemann administered remedies to healthy volunteers, and the resulting symptoms were compiled by observers into a drug picture. The volunteers were observed for months at a time and made to keep extensive journals detailing all of their symptoms at specific times throughout the day.

They were forbidden from consuming coffee, tea, spices, or wine for the duration of the experiment; playing chess was also prohibited because Hahnemann considered it to be “too exciting”, though they were allowed to drink beer and encouraged to exercise in moderation. After the experiments were over, Hahnemann made the volunteers take an oath swearing that what they reported in their journals was the truth, at which time he would interrogate them extensively concerning their symptoms.

Provings have been described as important in the development of the clinical trial, due to their early use of simple control groups, systematic and quantitative procedures, and some of the first application of statistics in medicine. The lengthy records of self-experimentation by homeopaths have occasionally proven useful in the development of modern drugs: For example, evidence that nitroglycerin might be useful as a treatment for angina was discovered by looking through homeopathic provings, though homeopaths themselves never used it for that purpose at that time.

The first recorded provings were published by Hahnemann in his 1796 Essay on a New Principle.

His Fragmenta de Viribus (1805) contained the results of 27 provings, and his 1810 Materia Medica Pura contained 65.

For James Tyler Kent’s 1905 Lectures on Homoeopathic Materia Medica, 217 remedies underwent provings and newer substances are continually added to contemporary versions.

Repertory

Homeopathic repertory by James Tyler Kent.

Homeopaths generally begin with detailed examinations of their patients’ histories, including questions regarding their physical, mental and emotional states, their life circumstances and any physical or emotional illnesses. The homeopath then attempts to translate this information into a complex formula of mental and physical symptoms, including likes, dislikes, innate predispositions and even body type.

From these symptoms, the homeopath chooses how to treat the patient. A compilation of reports of many homeopathic provings, supplemented with clinical data, is known as a homeopathic materia medica.

But because a practitioner first needs to explore the remedies for a particular symptom rather than looking up the symptoms for a particular remedy, the homeopathic repertory, which is an index of symptoms, lists after each symptom those remedies that are associated with it. Repertories are often very extensive and may include data extracted from multiple sources of materia medica. There is often lively debate among compilers of repertories and practitioners over the veracity of a particular inclusion.

The first symptomatic index of the homeopathic materia medica was arranged by Hahnemann. Soon after, one of his students Clemens von Bönninghausen, created the Therapeutic Pocket Book, another homeopathic repertory.

The first such homeopathic repertory was Georg Jahr’s Symptomenkodex, published in German (1835), which was then first translated to English (1838) by Constantine Hering as the Repertory to the more Characteristic Symptoms of Materia Medica. This version was less focused on disease categories and would be the forerunner to Kent’s later works.  It consisted of three large volumes. Such repertories increased in size and detail as time progressed.

Some diversity in approaches to treatments exists among homeopaths. Classical homeopathy generally involves detailed examinations of a patient’s history and infrequent doses of a single remedy as the patient is monitored for improvements in symptoms, while clinical homeopathy involves combinations of remedies to address the various symptoms of an illness.

A Look at Homeopathy, Part 3

The British royal family uses homeopathy as their exclusive medical approach

The British royal family uses homeopathy as their exclusive medical approach

Remedy is a technical term in homeopathy that refers to a substance prepared with a particular procedure and intended for treating patients.

Homeopathic practitioners rely on two types of reference when prescribing remedies: Materia medica and repertories. A homeopathic Materia medica is a collection of “drug pictures”, organised alphabetically by remedy, that describes the symptom patterns associated with individual remedies.

A homeopathic repertory is an index of disease symptoms that lists remedies associated with specific symptoms.Homeopathy uses many animal, plant, mineral, and synthetic substances in its remedies. Examples include Arsenicum album (arsenic oxide), Natrum muriaticum (sodium chloride or table salt), Lachesis muta (the venom of the bushmaster snake), Opium, and Thyroidinum (thyroid hormone). Homeopaths also use treatments called nosodes (from the Greek nosos, disease) made from diseased or pathological products such as fecal, urinary, and respiratory discharges, blood, and tissue. Homeopathic remedies prepared from healthy specimens are called sarcodes.

Some modern homeopaths have considered more esoteric bases for remedies, known as imponderables because they do not originate from a material but from electromagnetic energy presumed to have been “captured” by alcohol or lactose. Examples include X-rays and sunlight. Recent ventures by homeopaths into even more esoteric substances include thunderstorms (prepared from collected rainwater). Today there are about 3,000 different remedies commonly used in homeopathy.

Some homeopaths also use techniques that are regarded by other practitioners as controversial. These include paper remedies, where the substance and dilution are written on a piece of paper and either pinned to the patient’s clothing, put in their pocket, or placed under a glass of water that is then given to the patient, as well as the use of radionics to prepare remedies. 

Preparation

Mortar and pestle used for grinding insoluble solids into homeopathic remedies including quartz and oyster shells.

In producing remedies for diseases, homeopaths use a process called dynamisation or potentisation whereby a substance is diluted with alcohol or distilled water and then vigorously shaken by ten hard strikes against an elastic body in a process called succussion.

While Hahnemann advocated using substances which produce symptoms similar to those of the disease being treated, he found that material doses would intensify the symptoms and exacerbate the condition, sometimes causing what amounted to dangerous toxic reactions. He therefore specified that the substances be diluted. Hahnemann believed that the process of succussion activated the vital energy of the diluted substance. For this purpose, Hahnemann had a saddle maker construct a special wooden striking board covered in leather on one side and stuffed with horsehair. Insoluble solids, such as quartz and oyster shell, are diluted by grinding them with lactose (trituration).

Dilutions

Three logarithmic potency scales are in regular use in homeopathy. Hahnemann created the centesimal or C scale, diluting a substance by a factor of 100 at each stage. The centesimal scale was favored by Hahnemann for most of his life. A 2C dilution requires a substance to be diluted to one part in one hundred, and then some of that diluted solution diluted by a further factor of one hundred.

This works out to one part of the original substance in 10,000 parts of the solution.

A 6C dilution repeats this process six times, ending up with the original material diluted by a factor of 100−6=10−12 (one part in one trillion)(1/1,000,000,000,000). Higher dilutions follow the same pattern. In homeopathy, a solution that is more dilute is described as having a higher potency, and more dilute substances are considered by homeopaths to be stronger and deeper-acting remedies. The end product is often so diluted that it is indistinguishable from the dilutant (pure water, sugar or alcohol).

Hahnemann advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes (that is, dilution by a factor of 1060).  In Hahnemann’s time it was reasonable to assume that remedies could be diluted indefinitely, as the concept of the atom or molecule as the smallest possible unit of a chemical substance was just beginning to be recognized. The greatest dilution that is reasonably likely to contain one molecule of the original substance is 12C.

This bottle contains arnica montana (wolf’s bane) D6, i.e. the nominal dilution is one part in a million (10-6).

Some homeopaths developed a decimal scale (D or X), diluting the substance to ten times its original volume each stage. The D or X scale dilution is therefore half that of the same value of the C scale; for example, “12X” is the same level of dilution as “6C”. Hahnemann never used this scale but it was very popular throughout the 19th century and still is in Europe.

This potency scale appears to have been introduced in the 1830s by the American homeopath, Constantine Hering. In the last ten years of his life, Hahnemann also developed a quintamillesimal (Q) or LM scale diluting the drug 1 part in 50,000 parts of diluent. A given dilution on the Q scale is roughly 2.35 times its designation on the C scale. For example a remedy described as “20Q” has about the same concentration as a “47C” remedy.

Homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum

A Look at Homeopathy, Part 2

homeopathyIn the previous article, A Look at Homeopathy, Part 1, I looked at how this very sophisticated form of medicine got its beginnings.

Based on the ideas of the Renaissance physician Paracelsus, it was developed and made into a system of medicine by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, at the end of the 18th century.

Hahnemann observed from his experiments with cinchona bark, used as a treatment for malaria, that the effects he experienced from ingesting the bark were similar to the symptoms of malaria. He therefore decided that cure proceeds through similarity, and that treatments must be able to produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the disease being treated.

Through further experiments with other substances, Hahnemann conceived of the law of similars, otherwise known as “let like be cured by like” (Latin: similia similibus curentur) as a fundamental healing principle.

Homeopathy_554_19324397_0_0_7007740_300He believed that by inducing a disease through use of drugs, the artificial symptoms empowered the vital force to neutralize and expel the original disease and that this artificial disturbance would naturally subside when the dosing ceased. It is based on the belief that a substance that in large doses will produce symptoms of a specific disease will, in extremely small doses, cure it.

From there, Hahnemann developed theories and the science of homeopathy, in which practitioners use highly diluted preparations. Based on the law of similars, preparations which cause certain symptoms in healthy individuals are given in diluted form to patients exhibiting similar symptoms.

Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking, which homeopaths term succussion, after each dilution under the assumption that this increases the effect. Homeopaths call this process potentization. Dilution often continues until none of the original substance remains.

Apart from the symptoms, homeopaths use aspects of the patient’s physical and psychological state in recommending remedies. Homeopathic reference books known as repertories are then consulted, and a remedy is selected based on the totality of symptoms.

Depending on the dilution, homeopathic remedies may not contain any pharmacologically active molecules. Modern homeopaths state that one reason homeopathy is effective is that water has a memory that allows homeopathic preparations to work without any of the original substance inherent in it.

The vital force

The vital force

Ultimately, the reason homeopathy works is predicated on the what homeopaths call “the vital force.”

Homeopathy interprets diseases and sickness as caused by disturbances in a vital force or life force. It sees these disturbances as manifesting themselves as unique symptoms. Homeopathy maintains that the vital force has the ability to react and adapt to internal and external causes, which homeopaths refer to as the law of susceptibility.

The law of susceptibility implies that a negative state of mind can attract disease entities called miasms to invade the body and produce symptoms of diseases. Hahnemann rejected the notion of a disease as a separate thing or invading entity and insisted that it was always part of the “living whole.”

As time went on, Hahnemann expounded on his original concepts and developed an entire set of principles regarding health and illness.

n 1828, Hahnemann introduced the concept of miasms; underlying causes for many known diseases. A miasm is often defined by homeopaths as an imputed “peculiar morbid derangement of [the] vital force”.

Before and after: A miasm leading to a skin disease, and after treatment with homeopathy it cleared up

Before and after: A miasm leading to a skin disease, and after treatment with homeopathy it cleared up

Hahnemann associated each miasm with specific diseases, with each miasm seen as the root cause of several diseases. According to Hahnemann, initial exposure to miasms causes local symptoms, such as skin or venereal diseases, but if these symptoms are suppressed by medication, the cause goes deeper and begins to manifest itself as diseases of the internal organs.

Homeopathy maintains that treating diseases by directly opposing their symptoms, as is sometimes done in conventional medicine, is ineffective because all “disease can generally be traced to some latent, deep-seated, underlying chronic, or inherited tendency”.

The underlying imputed miasm still remains, and deep-seated ailments can only be corrected by removing the deeper disturbance of the vital force.

Originally Hahnemann presented only three miasms, of which the most important was “psora” (Greek for itch), described as being related to any itching diseases of the skin, supposed to be derived from suppressed scabies, and claimed to be the foundation of many further disease conditions.

Hahnemann believed psora to be the cause of such diseases as epilepsy, cancer, jaundice, deafness, and cataracts. Since Hahnemann’s time, other miasms have been proposed, some replacing one or more of psora’s proposed functions, including tubercular miasms and cancer miasms.

To be continued next time, with a more in-depth look at what homeopathic remedies are.

A Look at Homeopathy, Part 1

homeopathy-pills-4The series on the Roots of Medicine continues with a look at homeopathy.

I’ve been writing about the great systems of medicine over the last few weeks, and during that time have written about Ayurvedic Medicine, Traditional Tibetan Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Homeopathy is also a great system of medicine, but it differs from the other three in that it stems from the West, and it also is fairly recent, whereas the other systems of medicine profiled are ancient systems.

Homeopathy was first proposed in 1796 by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann.

Hahnemann was influenced by the Swiss physician Paracelsus, who lived in the 16th century. Like many learned people of that era, Paracelsus was truly a Renaissance man, a man who dabbled both in the sciences and metaphysics: he was a doctor, botanist, alchemist, astrologer and occultist.

paracelsus2

Paracelsus

Interestingly, Paracelsus was a practicing astrologer, as were many other physicians working at that time in Europe. And as a scientist, Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine.

Because of his work with chemicals and minerals, Paracelsus is considered the pioneer of pharmacology. It was his belief that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him,” anticipated homeopathy and influenced Samuel Hahnemann.

Hahnemann was born in 1755 and died in 1843. He was a practicing physician, but quickly grew disenchanted with medicine, and by 1784 had given up his practice of medicine. He claimed that the medicine of his time did as much harm as good, and said:

“My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines. The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing.”

Samuel Hanhemann

Samuel Hahnemann

After giving up his practice around 1784, Hahnemann made his living chiefly as a writer and translator, while resolving also to investigate the causes of medicine’s alleged errors.

While translating William Cullen’s A Treatise on the Materia Medica, Hahnemann encountered the claim that cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree, was effective in treating malaria because of its astringency.

Hahnemann believed that other astringent substances are not effective against malaria and began to research cinchona’s effect on the human body by self-application. Noting that the drug induced malaria-like symptoms in himself, he concluded that it would do so in any healthy individual – thus he put to practice Parcelsus’ theory that in small doses “what makes a man ill also cures him.”

This led him to postulate a healing principle: “that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms.”

This principle, like cures like, became the basis for an approach to medicine which he gave the name homeopathy. He first used the term homeopathy in his essay Indications of the Homeopathic Employment of Medicines in Ordinary Practice, published in Hufeland’s Journal in 1807.

Even though it wasn’t until 1807 that he used the term homeopathy, Hahnemann began practicing this new technique immediately upon discovering it, and by 1792 he was attracting the interest of other doctors. His first official public proclamation was an article he published about the homeopathic approach in a German language medical journal in 1796.

To be continued next time…

A Look at Traditional Chinese Medicine, Part 2

chartmeridians

In the last article, A Look at Traditional Chinese Medicine, Part 1, I gave a brief overview of Chinese Medicine and then discussed its Taoist roots.

Today I will continue with the discussion.

I finished the last article by saying that all aspects of Chinese culture, and especially the arts and sciences, are meant to be reflections of the Tao. In other words, all aspects of Chinese culture have a chief aim: to cultivate and produce harmony with the Universe.

And from this aim does Chinese Medicine arise.

The goal in Chinese Medicine is to help a person become healthier by being in harmony with the Universe. This is achieved by helping the person achieve a flow within their body, and have that flow resonate with the flow of nature and the Universe: in other words, it is the chief desire to have a person be in synch with the pulse of the Universe.

In Chinese Medicine, it’s all about chi – or more correctly spelled these days, qi – flow.

taoThe beginnings of Chinese Medicine, many millennia ago, was rooted in observations of nature. The wise sages who originally formulated this medicine believed that as long as a person was like water, and like trees that could bend but not break in the wind, that they followed the same path as the Tao, and in that way, they could then be healthy.

From there came the earliest ideas, that health was about maintaining good flow, and that disease set into the body when there were problems with the flow.

From this basic concept did this system of medicine develop. One of the first textbooks in the pantheon of Chinese Medicine was written 2,000 years ago, and is still revered today. Called The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, it is a dialogue between the Yellow Emperor and his physician, Qi Bo.

From there, over the eons many other books that are still revered in Chinese Medicine were written – some on herbal medicine, some on acupuncture, and some that are on theories of illness.

acupunctureAll these books, and the thinking behind it, allowed for the flowering of Chinese Medicine and for it to become a very sophisticated and profound form of medicine. And over time, different theories were developed, including Yin-yang, the Five Phases, the human body Meridian/Channel system, Zang Fu organ theory, six confirmations, four levels, deficiency/excess, emptiness/fullness, hot/cold, wind, dampness, pathogens, internal/external, qi (several different types), essences, body fluids, vessels, and more.

The first step in being treated by a Chinese Medicine doctor is for the doctor to make a diagnosis. To do that, the doctor uses the diagnostic tools inherent within Chinese Medicine.

Pulse diagnosis

Pulse diagnosis

These tools can be classified as touching, seeing, smelling, hearing and questioning. The most well-known touching diagnostic tool is pulse diagnosis, whereby the doctor palpates the pulse in six different positions to feel for pulse quality.

The most well-known of the seeing diagnostic tools is tongue diagnosis, in which the doctor looks at the tongue and observes the color of the tongue, the color of the coat, and various other markers that appear on the tongue.

Using pulse and tongue diagnosis, along with other diagnostic approaches, the Chinese Medicine doctor can then make a Chinese Medical diagnosis, which allows for treatment to take place, whether with acupuncture, Chinese herbs, dietary therapy, qi gong, tui na, or some combination, to take place.

tongue_diagnosis

Tongue diagnosis

Most doctors of Chinese Medicine will usually specialize in one of the main treatment modalities, as opposed to being proficient in all. Each of the main treatment modalities – acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, dietary therapy, qi gong, and tui na (think osteopathy) – takes years of training to become a master.

In the West, schools of Chinese Medicine train students to be able to do most of the modalities, but in reality, each of the modalities is a discipline of and by itself, and takes many years to master. That is not to say a practitioner can’t successfully do a number of the modalities, but to do so takes a commitment to really learn the skills.

As a Western student and now practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I learned all the modalities, and the ones I primarily use are acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and dietary therapy. If push comes to shove though, and someone told me I could only practice just one modality, I would choose Chinese Herbal Medicine.

A Chinese herbal pharmacy

A Chinese herbal pharmacy

I keep a pharmacy of about 200 raw herbs, and I create herbal formulas in the same traditional/classical way as the ancient sage doctors of Chinese Medicine. I love getting my hands on the herbs, as it connects me to an ancient and sacred past.

But just the same, I know most of my patients think of acupuncture as the main modality of Chinese Medicine, and so that is my primary practice.

Most people in the U.S. don’t realize how much research goes on in China into the use of Chinese herbs for many chronic ailments. Cancer is a big specialty in Chinese Medicine, and in China herbal medicine is an important tool in fighting cancer. Much of the research into using Chinese herbs in the treatment of cancer goes into Chinese medical journals, but sadly, not much of that research gets translated and published in Western medical journals.

A Look at Traditional Chinese Medicine, Part 1

acupuncture_meridian_manDuring this series on the Roots of Medicine, having looked at Traditional Tibetan Medicine with the last article, and the time before having looked at Ayurvedic Medicine, today I turn my sights on another ancient system of medicine: Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine, like Tibetan and Ayurvedic Medicine, is a highly sophisticated and highly evolved system. Like all traditional forms of medicine, and like what Western Medicine used to be before it became a technological medicine, it is both a science and art.

(Full disclosure: as a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I am highly biased towards this brilliant form of medicine.)

Chinese Medicine is a highly logical system of medicine, and all the concepts and theories that are part of it make a lot of sense.

Most people in the West, especially the U.S., when they think of Chinese Medicine, think of acupuncture. Yet acupuncture is just one modality within Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine has five main modalities, what are called the Five Branches. Acupuncture is one modality; Chinese Herbal Medicine is another; dietary therapy is a third; tui na/shiatsu/acupressure is a fourth; and qi gong is the fifth.

Chinese_Herb_MedicineIn China, Chinese Herbal Medicine is considered the modality of choice for most internal medicine problems; in the West, acupuncture is seen as the primary modality of Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine is a by-product of Taoism, the philosophy that is at the core of Chinese thinking. The Tao is translated as the “Path” or “Way” (of Life).

Taoism is based on the teachings of Lao Tzu, the Chinese sage in the sixth century B.C.E. He taught that “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” He wrote his teachings down in 81 chapters, and this book forms the Tao Te Ching, which is the essence of Taoism.

He begins his teaching in the first chapter, where he says,
“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.”

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu

The essence of practicing Taoism is to learn to be in the flow – which is also the essence of living a Low Density Lifestyle. And in Taoism, to be in the flow is to be like water. As Lao Tzu says:
“The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.”

Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos, health and longevity, and wu wei (action through inaction, also known as effortless effort, which is a key component of living a Low Density Lifestyle), which is thought to produce harmony with the Universe.

supernatural-taoism-yin-yang12And harmony with the Universe is an important tenet both of Taoism and Chinese Medicine. Harmony with the Universe is attained by balancing the needs of the opposites and bringing them together in union. The harmony of opposites is what the famous Taoist symbol, that of yin and yang in unison, speaks of.

Taoism philosophy states that from the Tao, the eternal force that permeates the universe, the opposite yet harmonizing forces of yin and yang, spring forth. And from yin and yang, the ten thousand things arise.

And thus, from this very simple philosophy does Chinese Medicine spring forth. In fact, all Chinese thinking stems from this philosophy, and because of this, the traditional Chinese arts, sciences and martial arts, are all manifestations of it.

In other words, all traditional aspects of Chinese culture are meant to be reflections of the Tao.

I’ll continue with this discussion in the next article, and take a more in-depth look at Chinese Medicine.

A Look at Traditional Tibetan Medicine: Part 2

yuthok_09In Part 1 of this 2-part article on Traditional Tibetan Medicine, I discussed the history of this ancient form of medicine.

Today I’ll take a look at how it works.

Tibet’s culture is deeply embedded in the Buddhist way. Accordingly, Traditional Tibetan Medicine is also deeply informed by Buddhism.

Because of this, Tibetan Medicine understands that good health is attained not just by being physically healthy, but also by having a healthy mind as well.

Based on the centuries-old Buddhist study of the mind, Tibetan Medicine gives priority to factors of psychological and spiritual development in its definition of health. It seeks to understand and explain the nature and reason for the suffering people experience in their lives.

It teaches acceptance of and gives meaning to the cycle of birth, sickness, old age, and death we all encounter. Common experiences such as not getting what we want, not wanting what we get, being separated from whomever or whatever is dear to us, and being joined with people and things we dislike becomes a basis of spiritual understanding and growth.

Tibetan Medicine explains how hatred, anger and aggression, ignorance and incomprehension and a materialist view of the world result in states of mind which are at the root of our suffering, and how our habitual patterns of thinking and behaving are the primary cause of illness.

It also asserts that through study and spiritual practice an understanding and awareness can gradually be achieved which transcends that suffering.

mbuddhaTibetan Medicine attempts to help people become aware of the process of physiological, spiritual and psychological evolution as it originates from what people do, what people say, and what people think.

Every action sows its seed in the mind and will eventually ripen in accordance with its nature, and no experience is seen as causeless. The transient, ever-changing nature of all things is embraced. The conclusion which is reached from this view is the interdependent nature of all things. The highest value is placed on the attainment of compassion and what is termed loving kindness.

Because of this philosophy, I think it is safe to say that Traditional Tibetan Medicine is a deeply spiritual medicine.

Regarding developing good physical health, Tibetan medical theory states that it is necessary to maintain balance in the body’s three principles of function: rLüng (pron. Loong), mKhris-pa (pron. Tree-pa), and Bad-kan (pron. Pay-gen) often mistranslated as phlegm.

Lung is the source of the body’s ability to circulate physical substances (e.g. blood), energy (e.g. nervous system impulses), and the non-physical (e.g. thoughts). In embryological development, the mind’s expression of materialism is manifested as the system of rLüng. There are five distinct subcategories of rLüng each with specific locations and functions: Srog-’Dzin rLüng, Gyen-rGyu rLüng, Khyab-Byed rLüng, Me-mNyam rLüng, Thur-Sel rLüng.

mKhris-pa is characterized by the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of heat, and is the source of many functions such as thermoregulation, metabolism, liver function and discriminating intellect. In embryological development, the mind’s expression of aggression is manifested as the system of mKhris-pa. There are five distinct subcategories of mKhris-pa each with specific locations and functions: ‘Ju-Byed mKhris-pa, sGrub-Byed mKhris-pa, mDangs-sGyur mKhris-pa, mThong-Byed mKhris-pa, mDog-Sel mKhris-pa.

300px-Ancient_Tibetan_Medicine_PosterBad-kan is characterized by the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of cold, and is the source of many functions such as aspects of digestion, the maintenance of physical structure, joint health and mental stability. In embryological development, the mind’s expression of ignorance is manifested as the system of Bad-kan. There are five distinct subcategories of Bad-kan each with specific locations and functions: rTen-Byed Bad-kan, Myag-byed Bad-kan, Myong-Byed Bad-kan, Tsim-Byed Bad-kan, ‘Byor-Byed Bad-kan.

In practice, the Tibetan Medical Doctor begins by interviewing the patient and finding out the pertinent medical history.

The doctor then does a urine analysis, in which the urine sample is examined. In the urine analysis the doctor looks for such things as the color of the specimen and its odor, and then after vigorous stirring, the size, color, amount, and persistence of bubbles, and any deposits. From this the doctor can begin to confirm the nature of the illness, the presence of infection and the localization of the illness among other things.

After that, the doctor feels the pulses in order to perform pulse diagnosis. In pulse diagnosis, the doctor is feeling twelve separate pulses – six distinct pulses at the radial artery of each wrist. The doctor feels for such things as the width, depth, strength, speed and quality of the pulse. Each of those factors when understood properly allows the doctor to clearly define the illness, its location, hidden complications and its etiology.

Once diagnosis is made, treatment can begin. The first consideration in treatment is the principle that all illness ultimately originates in the mind. This does not mean that all illness is psychological or psychosomatic.

l12-pic03Instead, it means that due to ignorance people misperceive the nature of reality and act in ways which create suffering such as illness. Given this basic principle, when treating an illness physicians first begin by recommending specific behavioral and lifestyle modifications.

If this is not sufficient, then physicians work at the level of dietary therapy. If these are not enough to cure the problem, physicians employ herbal medicines or, if needed, physical
therapies such as acupuncture.

Tibetan Medicine believes that the treatment ultimately must fit the patient; that is, treatment must be formulated in a manner which can and will be effective for that individual.

Behavioral and lifestyle modifications can include meditation instruction, spiritual advice, counseling, exercise, or the reorganization of habitual patterns such as sleep habits and eating schedules.

Herbal medicine is a big part of Traditional Tibetan Medicine. It utilizes up to two thousand types of plants, forty animal species, and fifty minerals. Herbal treatments range from simple to very complex, using anywhere from 3 to 150 herbs per formula. Each formula or set of formulas is prescribed to fit the manifestation of the disease and the evolving condition of the individual patient. As a result, herbal medicines often need to be modified at each visit.

If the behavioral modification, diet therapy, and herbal medicine are not sufficient to cure the illness, physicians can also employ therapies such as acupuncture, moxabustion, cupping, massage, and inhalation therapy.