Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Cupping is an adjunct therapy in TCM which has been used for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. There are several styles of cups and ways to apply them. Glass cups of varying size are the most common in clinics today. A vacuum is created inside the cup by rapidly swirling a lighted alcohol swab inside the cup which draws out the oxygen allowing it to suction on to the skin.

Cups may be stationary, being retained over specific muscles or areas of tension or they may be sliding, where massage oil is applied to the body allowing the cups to move over larger areas. Flashing cupping is the rapid suction and removal of the cup creating a popping noise.

Cupping can be used for many common complaints and has become an acceptable treatment among athletes, such as Chinese swimmer Wang Qun, uses cupping and of course who doesn't remember Gwyneth Paltrow at a New York film premiere.

What are the therapeutic benefits of cupping?
  • increases blood circulation to the area
  • decreases swelling
  • clears heat from the body
What conditions can be treated with cupping?
  • bi syndromes which corresponds to joint pain, especially that which is worse in cold, damp weather
  • muscle tension or pain
  • cough, common cold, stomachache
  • numbness, weakened function
What are the side-effects?
Depending on the intensity of the suction and amount of tension in an area there may be a bruise-like mark left varying from light red to dark purple. There is no pain or discomfort associated with this and often the darker the mark the more relief is felt.

Do you know where your Dan Tian is? Part II of TCM Terminology

The Dan Tian is an area in the lower abdomen a bit more than an inch below the navel between the spine and navel. It is the area where jing is stored represented by the uterus in women and the chamber of essence (sperm) in men.

Ancient Taoist texts often mention three dan tian, the first being the lower dan tian mentioned above, the second is the middle dan tian which stores qi at the level of the heart. The brain is considered the third or upper dan tian which is said to be the sea of marrow.

There are actually "four seas" in TCM called Si Hai. Often referred to a group of acupuncture points where the qi gathers as if converging like water in the sea. The Si Hai are as follows

Sui Hai - sui refers to marrow therefore sui hai is sea of marrow and as mentioned above refers to the brain.
Xue Hai - xue means blood, the sea of blood may refer to the liver where blood is stored, the chong meridian where the blood of all channels is seen to converge or an acupuncture point on the spleen meridian above the knee.
Qi Hai - qi as discussed in Part I has many translations, the sea of qi is represented by the centre of the chest as mentioned above, as well as an acupuncture point on the ren meridian located just below the navel.
Shui Gu Zhi Hai - shui translates as water and gu as grain. Therefore shui gu zhi hai is the sea of grain and water which refers to the stomach where food is received and stored.

Ming Men is another an important area of the body often referred to as the gate of life. Ming translates as life, fate, destiny, order, command and Men means door or gate. The life gate or Ming Men is located on the back between the two kidneys and is considered to store a person's jing or essence and therefore the source of qi and root of yin and yang.

Wu Xin translates as five hearts, wu means five and xin can be translated as heart, the mind, feeling, intention, centre. Wu Xin actually refers to the palms, soles of the feet and centre of the chest and plays an important diagnostic role in certain conditions.

The Burning Question - What is Moxa?

Moxibustion is a therapy often used in conjunction with acupuncture. Therapeutically moxibustion stimulates acupuncture points through the application of heat. The primary herb used in clinical practice is Ai Ye (artemisia vulgaris) or mugwort.

What action does burning moxa have on the body?
  • activates qi and blood circulation
  • eliminates cold and damp
  • disperses swelling
  • reduces pain
  • strengthens the body's yang qi which in turn helps prevent illness
  • enhances the therapeutic action of the acupuncture points when used in conjunction with needles
Moxa can be applied in the following forms:
Stick - the leaf is dried and rolled into a stick which can be used to warm the needles or areas of the body.
Floss - is a form which can be made into cones to apply on the body or tops of needles. Other herbs may be used with the moxa cones to enhance the therapeutic effect. Sliced ginger to help treat vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping. Garlic helps to detoxify and reduce swellings. Salt helps to tonify the yang qi.
Smokeless - spray and stick for use in clinics where air circulation is an issue.

TCM Diagnosis Part II - Taking the Pulse

Palpation is another important part of the consultation, which can involve palpating areas of pain, points on a meridian and the pulse. The Pulse can provide the practitioner detailed information about the condition of the body, qi, blood and organ systems.

How is the pulse taken?
The pulse is taken on both wrists using three fingers. The three positions are referred to as cun at wrist crease felt with index finger, guan in the middle felt with the middle finger and chi position closest to the body felt with the ring finger.

What do the finger positions correspond to?
Each finger position corresponds to different organ systems in the body.
Left hand side - cun heart, guan liver/gallbladder and chi kidney/small intestines and bladder. Right hand side - cun lungs, guan spleen/stomach and chi ming men/large intestine.

What are the characteristics of the pulse to be analyzed?
rate - how fast is flowing under the fingers
depth - is it strongest close to the surface or close to the bone
strength - is it powerful or weak
quality - does the vessel feel soft, full, thin, wiry, slippery, choppy

Ideally the healthy pulse has a moderate rate, can be felt from a superficial level to a deep level, and flows smoothly under all three the fingers. If the pulse is abnormal in a particular position it gives a clue to how that organ system may be out of balance.

The pulse should also change according to the season
spring - yang qi starts to increase thereby increasing tension of the pulse making it wiry/taut
summer - the weather is hot which makes the pulse feel like it is overflowing from the vessel
autumn - yang qi starts to fade therefore the pulse becomes empty, soft and fine (like a hair)
winter - the weather is cold which causes the pulse to become deep and strong

For proper pulse diagnosis the practitioner evaluates seven aspects of the pulse left and right sides, upper and lower referring to cun and chi as well as analyzing the superficial which determines if an external disease is present such as the common cold, the middle determines pathology of the spleen and stomach while the deep determines the presence of an internal disease.

TCM Diagnosis Part I - Observation of the Tongue

Observation is an important part of the diagnostic process in Chinese Medicine, which includes observing the patient's complexion, eyes, skin, demeanour, gait, spirit and tongue . Tongue diagnosis is divided into 2 major parts - tongue body and tongue coating.

The colour, shape, size and presence of other abnormalities such as cracks, teethmarks or prickles make up the tongue body. Whereas the coating can be described in terms of wetness, colour, texture and thickness. The location of these signs on the tongue also have diagnostic significance according to the organ systems. Areas of the tongue divided representing different organ systems as you can see by the image above.

What does a healthy tongue look like?
The tongue body should be pinkish-red, moist, moves easily inside the mouth. The tongue coating should be thin and white.

What are general indications?
Dark red, bright red tongue body and dry, yellow, peeling coat indicates heat in the body, whereas a pale body, white, moist, wet fur indicates cold, deficient qi or blood.

What does the location of imbalance indicate?
At the back of the tongue, which corresponds to the kidney and bladder is related to an imbalance with metabolism, storage and urination. The middle portion of the tongue is related to the spleen and stomach, therefore abnormalities indicate digestion and absorption of food is not optimal. The front third reflects the heart and lung and subsequently the transportation of qi and blood in the body.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What is Qi? Part I of TCM Terminology

There are many terms and concepts unique to Traditional Chinese Medicine which can be confusing when first receiving treatment. This article is the first in a series of three to help clear up basic concepts.

What are Yin and Yang?
Yin and Yang are two essential elements which comprise the whole universe. They are used to describe all things in relative terms as nothing is pure yin or pure yang. As illustrated by the yin yang symbol. Yang represents male, day, light, active, heat, fast, exterior while yin represents female, night, dark, passive, cold, slow, interior. Therefore there are yin and yang aspects of Qi, the body, as well as disease. Both yin and yang are always present in the body. When they are out of balance disease results.

What is Qi?
Often described as energy or life force, Qi is more than just energy circulating in your body, originating from a philosophical and cosmological perspective it is the basic substance from which everything on earth originated. The concept of Qi evolved to explain human physiology and subsequently pathology. Qi is the force behind all transformation and change in the universe.

Within the body Qi flows to support life. The physiological functioning of the organs, tissues and systems of the body depend on Qi, of which there are several forms.
Congenital Qi - Qi inherited from parents
Acquired Qi - energy from food and air
Yong Qi - energy that nourishes the body
Wei Qi - energy that protects the body from pathogens.

What are meridians?
Also called jing luo the meridian system is a network of channels that circulate qi and blood through the body. These channels connect the organs, limbs, interior with the exterior the upper and lower parts of the body as well as the right and left.

What are the five vital substances?
Qi is one of the Five vital substances which nourish the body to maintain a healthy state. The other four are listed below
Jing has a few meanings. First it is a persons congenital essence, the fundamental substance constituting the body which has been acquired from the parents. It is also the essence of food which s the substance required for maintaining vital activities. Lastly it is the reproductive essence.

Shen is often translated as spirit which reflects the internal condition of the body externally in the appearance, for example the glow of the skin, the sparkle of the eyes, general demeanour. Shen also includes the mind which refers to the state of consciousness as well as thought. Shen is related to the Heart system which governs all vital activities of the body.

Xue is blood which in TCM is assimilated from food and distributed to nourish the whole body.

Jin Ye
Jin Ye is body fluids such as tears, sweat, saliva, milk, mucus, hydrochloric acid and genital secretions. Jin are the lighter, yang fluids while Ye are the denser, yin fluids.