One of the most common symptoms that patients complain of in our office is a constant feeling of fatigue. Sometimes this is directly related to a certain illness, condition, or medication – and other times it is just an unexplained tiredness that nothing seems to alleviate. Some people who feel a constant fatigue have trouble sleeping, and the tiredness is related to lack of adequate sleep. For others, however, a full night’s rest doesn’t give them the additional energy they crave.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and to honor that, this post is about how Traditional Chinese Medicine understands our mental and emotional selves. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can be very useful therapies to treat common mental health conditions, especially in conjunction with psychotherapy and pharmaceutical medication (when appropriate.) Common mental health conditions we see in our clinic include anxiety, depression, post-partum depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.
One interesting, somewhat enigmatic part of the treatment experience for patients is when the practitioner takes the pulse and looks at the tongue. New patients will often ask, “What are you looking for in the pulse and tongue?” Experienced patients will often want to know, “How is my pulse and tongue today?”
Blood is important. This may seem obvious, but from an East Asian Medical perspective, this is much more than just discussing anemia or blood loss or other western diagnosis. As an acupuncturist, I talk a lot about ‘blood deficiency’, and ‘deficient’ doesn’t always imply quantity, but also quality. Blood and qi are both important, one relies on the other, but as we will see, the quality of the blood can play out in symptoms that may not be so readily apparent.
A breech presentation refers to the situation when the baby is lying in a position other than head-down inside the womb. This can mean the baby’s bottom is down (and would be first to enter the birth canal), or the baby can be lying transversely (on his/her side). A breeched presentation can make vaginal delivery much more difficult or dangerous, so obviously it is in the best interest of the mom and baby to have the baby turn head-down before labor.
There is a concept in Chinese Herbal Medicine theory called “Food Stagnation” – you can probably guess what this is. Food Stagnation often occurs after eating too much or too quickly, or eating food that doesn’t agree with your body. Symptoms of food stagnation include an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, bloating, pain in the stomach, nausea, vomiting (if severe), loss of appetite, and constipation. The stuck food can cause our normal digestive Qi (energy) to become stuck, too, leading to additional symptoms. If there is regular food stagnation, over time this can weaken the digestive energy, leading to more chronic symptoms of indigestion and pain.
Before acupuncture was discovered, other methods of healing were known and commonly used in ancient China. Prior to the first known Chinese medical texts, which brought together various theories and modalities forming a complete system of medicine, two main predecessors of Chinese medicine existed. The first and maybe oldest form of medicine in China is known as shamanic medicine. This included more ritualistic healing such as chanting, dancing, incantations, and was based on “spirits” and “demons” that a shamaness would try to dispel from the “possessed” person. The second precursor to modern Chinese medicine is folk medicine. This type of medicine had some elements of ritual and superstition to it originally, as it probably derived from or parallel to shamanic medicine at its origin, but the main difference is that the herbal properties became central to the treatment rather than merely just being used as a prop or medium for the Shamaness’ incantation. It is this type of herbal folk medicine that became the roots and really the first modality of the Chinese medical system that has flourished for the last 2500 years.