Walking And Standing: The Two Best Exercises

I am often asked what type of exercise regimen one should begin as part of a health restoration program. There are so many different types of exercises available and so many places to do them that beginning such a program can seem daunting. This is especially true for those who have lived a sedentary lifestyle for a few years.

The thrust of the advice I espouse is one of prevention by means of self-direction. This means that it is not necessary to join a gym or purchase a treadmill in order to restore health through exercise.

Indeed, immediately joining an aerobics class or churning out miles on a treadmill can actually cause pain if you are not currently “in shape.” And since we are more concerned here with changing lifestyle patterns and outlooks, it is best to start slow. Then you can build to more challenging activities as your body grows stronger and your interest grows.

I don’t personally enjoy lifting weights, jogging or aerobic exercises. However, I do train in the martial arts and engage in a regular program of qigong standing and brisk walking as mind/body exercises. Since any health approach should incorporate an integrated mind/body theme, this must be an essential component of the physical activity you choose as exercise.

In this way, in addition to burning calories, increasing oxygen intake, stabilizing blood fats and sugars and releasing those feel-good hormones, you will also develop a mind/body center that will help focus your thoughts, emotions and spirit and help reduce the stress and anxiety that often accompany ill health.

Let’s look at two exercises that are easy to do, enjoyable and will get you toned and in shape while also offering a means of connecting your mind and body. These are Brisk Walking and Qigong Standing.

Brisk Walking
If done correctly, brisk walking can be one of the safest, most beneficial and enjoyable of exercises. Walking is an aerobic activity, but since it is low-impact there is little wear-and-tear on the joints and little (if any) triggering of pain from the jarring action of the body experienced in high-impact aerobic exercise or jogging. Although it is a simple activity, walking actually utilizes most of the muscles of the body to propel you forward and keep you on balance. It also increases respiration, heart and lung function, blood and oxygen flow and the “burning off” of blood sugars and fats. It facilitates the removal of toxins and other wastes through sweat and improved eliminative functions.

Walking is so simple and ordinary, yet in one 30-minute session you can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—the good—cholesterol levels, increase respiration within safe limits, sweat out toxins, release feel-good hormones called endorphins, improve heart function, begin reducing weight, reduce stress, promote relaxation and improve overall endurance and body tone. Amazing.

Many of the triggers that attack our health can be reduced or eliminated simply by walking. And this activity only requires time, as no special place need be made to do it—though it is preferable to walk in a park as opposed to a busy city sidewalk.

Though walking in and of itself is a common activity, few of us do it properly. In fact, walking as we naturally do will do little for our purposes. You must look to walking as a mind/body activity, wherein your mind is clear, emotions calm, respiration steady, body properly aligned and relaxed and each walking step even and balanced. If you are able to integrate each of these components while briskly walking for at least 30 minutes a day, then your walks can be considered a microcosm of an integrated mind/body approach to health and wellness

Qigong Standing
Qigong is an ancient Chinese mind/body discipline that seeks to establish a healthy body by developing the so-called three treasures and three regulations. The three treasures are known in Chinese as jing (essence), qi (vital energy) and shen (spirit).

Jing is simply the body’s energy that is derived from glucogen and turned into glucose that is used to propel the body during any physical activity.

Qi has a number of meanings, many of which are esoteric and difficult to comprehend in Western terms. However, all of these meanings and definitions involve the coordination of breath or respiration with concentration.

Shen encompasses the many functions of the mind and your emotions and disposition.

Qigong, then, is primarily concerned with focus, intention and thought, as it is the intention that leads the breath to develop energy to power the body to then help make us healthy.

I have found that despite the hundreds of qigong practices, they all have a similar theme. Therefore, the more simple the qigong system the better (especially for busy Americans).

I have chosen to describe here the method known as zhanzhuang, or simply the “standing pole” method. It requires only enough space to stand still, and it is so simple that you will not be distracted by having to remember specific sequences of movement.

In a nutshell, this practice is as easy as standing with your legs a shoulder’s width apart with the knees bent only one or two inches and with both arms bent and held at the same level. Below are three standing postures for you to do in sequence.

1. Hand Floating On Water Hold your arms out to their respective sides, palms facing down. Try to visualize that your palms are floating on water. Be sure to keep them in place and not move them during the exercise.

2. Hugging A Tree From the previous posture, slowly raise your arms to chest level while pulling them inward. You want to feel as if you are hugging a tree, which is a mental image to keep your arms from coming too close to the body. Relax your hands and elbows and wrists, again like they are floating on water.

3. Holding Up The Sky From the previous posture, slowly rotate your palm outward while lifting your arms upward. The final position should find your hands at about forehead height, extended slightly forward and upward, as if holding up the sky from falling.

Once each posture is assumed, do the following steps:

  • Quiet the mind by not stressing over distracting thoughts that may come—simply allow them to go freely without passing judgment.
  • Regulate respiration by quietly breathing in and out at a steady relaxed pace. Now enjoy yourself for the next nine minutes.
  • After nine minutes, slowly move your arm position to the next posture. Do not excite your mind or move your legs as this will distract your energy and intention.

Sounds simple, but so much is going on. Here is a quote from Traditional Chinese Therapeutic Exercises—Standing Pole, by Wang Xuanjei and J.P.C. Moffett:

“Standing pole is an exercise of the whole body. As the outer form of the body is not moved, all the internal organs settle, while all metabolic functions increase. This develops movement within non-movement, that is, unhindered internal activity and movement within external stillness. It is a non-violent and non-overburdening exercise, simultaneously providing rest and exercise, easily adaptable to any condition and encouraging development of the body’s innate strengths and abilities in a natural way.”

You see, while it appears as if you are doing nothing at all, in actuality the body is engaged in a process of physical activity. While quieting the mind and regulating respiration you are reducing stress, relaxing the cerebral cortex and rejuvenating the central nervous system. You are also working muscles by virtue of maintaining an isometric posture wherein the knees and elbows are bent, the arms are raised and this position held steady without release until the end of the session. This elevates heart rate without overtaxing the heart, improves the circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body and increases metabolic functions while releasing toxins and tension from the body.

You’ll be surprised to find how difficult merely standing still can be. To be honest, most people have difficulty standing still (unmoving/frozen) for more than five minutes. Whether you think you’re already fit, or in need of more tone… give qigong a try. The results may surprise you.

Go ahead and take a brisk 30-minute walk and later that day or the next day, stand still for 30 minutes. You may find you’ve never felt better.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

How To Stretch… Correctly!

Regular stretching is necessary for optimal health. The cause of many avoidable aches and pains is lack of suppleness and excess tightness in the muscles. Not stretching is a problem, yet stretching the incorrect way is also a problem.

Many athletes and active people stretch before or after their activity yet still experience muscle pulls and tendon tears. The problem is they’ve been taught the wrong way to stretch since childhood. Incorrect stretching can lead to pulls and tears of muscles, tendons and ligaments. And most people, when they feel their muscles are painful or tight, will (incorrectly) stretch them more in the hopes of stretching through the problem. But they are only exacerbating it.

In this article I am going to give you guidelines for stretching correctly. I will explain two different methods to do so: one for lay people who want to feel good and the other for more active people or athletes whose activities require flexibility.

Stretching To Feel Good
For people with any kind of localized or general acute or chronic pain, stretching is a must. Sitting on a chair all day—whether at a desk, in a car or on the couch—leads to shortening of various muscles in the body.

The position of sitting often shortens the piriformis muscles, which lie underneath the gluteus muscles. Tightened piriformis can make the pelvis rotate off center, which can cause hip pain, leg pain and low back pain. Sitting slouched on the sofa or chair can cause pain across the mid back rhomboids and also the levator scapula and trapezius muscles. Sleeping with your head placed incorrectly or typing or reading while looking down can cause tightening of the many neck muscles.

The simple fact is that even without engaging in athletic activities, the muscles of the body tighten as a result of our daily activities. And chronic tightening can cause chronic pain, tension and soreness. Stretching is the answer.

Stretching for the purposes of wellness (as opposed to athletic activity) should be done slowly, rhythmically and quietly. In this regard you stretch to feel good, not to gain flexibility. Here are the guidelines:

  1. Isolate the muscle or muscle group you want to stretch.
  2. Find the position where you feel the very first sign of tightening or pulling in the muscle group.
  3. Remain still and wait patiently for that sensation to disappear.
  4. Only then do you lean or bend further in the direction of the stretch.
  5. Again feel the first sign of the stretch, and repeat the steps above.

There are many good books on the market that give the positions for stretching. Most of them should suffice, as long as there is no undue pressure put on any joint. You are probably safe doing some basic techniques you already know. To stretch correctly you must not rush, must not push to where it hurts and you must patiently await the muscle’s natural release of tension.

Stretching For Flexibility
Athletes often injure themselves by stretching improperly. Either they warm up a bit before engaging in their activity and then stretch afterward, or they stretch too much in the beginning and not enough at the end of it.

It is imperative that athletes warm up thoroughly and then stretch properly prior to the activity and after the activity. Athletes must warm up to stimulate blood flow and increase body temperature to allow the muscles to become supple.

Then stretching to elongate the muscle resting length can begin so the activity does not tear anything. After the activity the athlete should stretch in order to soothe the muscles and help prevent them from cramping.

Sounds time consuming, I know, but doesn’t chronic pain take more time from you?

For athletes I recommend a method of stretching called muscle energy technique (MET). This is similar to proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), but is not as rigorous and potentially damaging to the athlete if done incorrectly. And remember, correct stretching is what is important. Here’s what you do:

  1. Isolate the muscle or muscle group you want to stretch.
  2. Find the position where you feel the very first sign of tightening or pulling in the muscle group.
  3. Apply resistance for that muscle in the opposite direction you are trying to stretch into.
  4. Only apply 20 percent of your strength in the resistance. Maintain a steady pressure at that level for seven to 14 seconds.
  5. Release the resistance, but do not allow your stretching limb to change position by either flexing or extending. Wait five seconds.
  6. Slowly glide deeper into your stretch, until you feel the next level of pull, and repeat the above steps.

While many of the MET stretches require a partner, enough of them can be done alone. Since PNF stretches are gaining more publicity these days you can pick up a book or video on them. But use the MET method above.

Essentially they are the same, but PNF requires more force for a longer duration and from deeper positions. MET is the way to go, especially if you are not properly trained in PNF and want to avoid injuries. Moreover, simply relaxing into the stretch is too time consuming for athletes who need the extra time to warm up and cool down.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Eat More Fat! Well… Nature’s Healthy Fat

There is a nasty word out there in the weight loss world, and it’s “fat.”  Everyone is trying to lose weight, to lose “fat.” All the diet foods are labeled “fat free” to be appealing to dieters, even if they are laden with sugar. When people see an overweight person they say, “Oh man, look at that fat person.”

But fat is not just a bad word. In fact, there is an entire family of fats that are beloved by healthcare professionals because they are healthy for you.  In fact, these fats are not only healthy, they are essential for your body. They are known as omega-3s, or omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s are the good-for-you unsaturated fatty acids comprised of the polyunsaturated trio of a-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

While the omega-3 fatty acids are the big buzz word of today where healthy living and weight loss are concerned, they were actually discovered way back in the 1930s. During that decade it was found that these polyunsaturated fats were necessary for normal human growth to occur.

In the 1970s researchers studied the diets of the Eskimos of Greenland and discovered that two of the three omegas (DHA and EPA) were essential to heart health. The Eskimos were consuming large doses of these fatty acids through their seafood-rich diet. Moreover, they showed almost no signs of cardiovascular disease. That’s because these omega-3 fatty acids naturally reduce triglycerides and arterial plaque while reducing heart rate and maintaining healthy blood pressure. What an amazing family of fats.

Now where most supplements have to add the tag line “these claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” two of the three omegas HAVE been evaluated. In fact, EPA and DHA have both been awarded “qualified health claim” status by the FDA.

Here’s the statement from the FDA:

“Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA [n−3] fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

The Canadian Government has done additional research and has publicly stated: “DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves.”

As one might guess, with the rise in popularity of the omega-3 fatty acids, advertisers are producing supplements and adding it to foods or just prominently labeling those foods that already have these good fats in them. A diet high in fish is all that is needed. But for those of you who either don’t enjoy fish or who want more omega-3s in your diet, the highest doses can be found in krill oil, fish oil and flaxseed oil supplements.

No matter how you look at these omega fats, they are good for you and essential for health. Who said all fat was bad?

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Food Stagnation: Is It the Cause of Your Suffering?

Among the various patterns of imbalance defined in Chinese medicine, “food stagnation” is one of the most common in the United States. Food stagnation refers to the stoppage or “stagnation” of undigested food and energy in the stomach. And this, of course, is the direct result of poor dietary choices.

Signs and symptoms associated with food stagnation include epigastric pain, abdominal fullness, bloating, acid reflux, stomach cramps, poor digestion, constipation, difficulty breathing, poor distribution of nutrients and more.

Food stagnation is caused when the stomach is filled to or past its capacity. That is, when a large meal is eaten or too much cold or greasy food is ingested at once time. Think of the way you feel after eating large meals during the holidays and at parties. And while this syndrome is found among adults, it is most common in children.

Children are predisposed to food stagnation from birth. Infants, for example, have an inherently weak digestive system. And filling them with processed formula or animal milk, feeding them too much too soon or moving them on to solid foods before their system is ready leads to food stagnation. Their system is unable to cope and so the food accumulates and remains static in their stomach and intestines. Vomiting, hiccups and constipation are signs that this is happening.

As children get older their diets change to sodas and fruit juices, yogurts, processed foods and greasy foods such as pizzas, burgers and chips. This type of diet leads to stagnation of food in the body, stagnation of food leads to dampness and dampness leads to phlegm. And it is phlegm-damp accumulation that leads to chronic ear infections, colds and viruses, sinus infections, constipation, fevers, colic, asthma, hyperactivity and nightmares in children.

To avoid food stagnation in children, infants should be fed breast milk for the first six months. After that, breast milk should be combined with appropriate cereals and foods until the baby reaches 12 months of age. If breast feeding is out of the question because of time or insufficient lactation, then use sheep’s milk, which is the closest animal milk to mother’s milk.

From 1 year to 18 months, rice porridge (jook) is a good alternative. Broths made from organic vegetables and meats can also be given. Steamed or boiled vegetables are good choices thereafter.

Adults are also prone to food stagnation and it is mostly self-induced by poor dietary choices. Overeating leaves one feeling bloated until the food is able to properly digest. And eating too much fried, greasy or fatty food leads not only to stagnation but also to phlegm-damp. And this leads to interior heat, allergies, chronic diarrhea or constipation, food allergies, weight gain and obesity and the inability to think clearly and make lucid decisions.

As you can see, the problem of poor diet has wider implications than just weight and energy. If you have allergies, poor memory and concentration or any of the other signs and symptoms listed here, food stagnation just might be the cause.

If it is, the best remedy is as follows:

  • Eat food that is whole, fresh and diverse in type.
  • Eat four to six smaller meals per day to provide sustained energy while requiring less energy for digestion.
  • For at least a couple of days kick up the flavor of your food with fresh ginger, scallion, cloves, turmeric and other thermogenic spices. These help warm the body, aid digestion and normalize digestive activity.
  • Walk as much as possible between meals to begin metabolizing the food you have eaten. This is easily done by parking farther away from the door, taking the stairs or enjoying a walk after or before mealtimes.
  • Overall, limit or avoid foods that are fatty, greasy and fried while consuming more green leafy vegetables.

With these easy steps your digestion will normalize in a few days. And within a few days after that the signs and symptoms of food stagnation will fall away. It’s your body. Take care of it.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Amenorrhea And Chinese Herbal Medicine

Amenorrhea is one of the common health concerns for young ladies and women. There are two main classification of amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea is the lack of menstruation over reproductive age. Secondary amenorrhea refers to a break in the menstrual cycle for at least three months at a time.

According to the holistic theories of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), amenorrhea has three general causes. It is most predominantly the result of insufficient transformation of blood from the spleen and stomach. The spleen and stomach are paired yin/yang organs (for more on how TCM links organs together read How “Chinese” Organs Are Different), and are responsible for the transformation and transportation of blood and nutrients in the body derived from the food one eats.

Another cause is known as the severe consumption of yin blood and exhaustion of blood source. This refers to the depletion of the yin (nurturing) aspect of energy and the energetic source of blood, wherein enough blood or strength of hemoglobin is deficient.

The third cause of amenorrhea is blood stasis (slowing of blood flow) due to exterior cold (e.g., the weather, air conditioner) or from excessive consumption of cold food and beverages. While there are three primary causes of amenorrhea, the primary and secondary classifications present with several syndromes.

Primary Amenorrhea Syndromes
The main symptoms of primary amenorrhea are the gradual reduction of menstrual flow to eventual stoppage for a period of time. There are two manifestations of this: 1) weakness of qi and blood, and 2) liver and kidney deficiency.

Weakness of qi (energy) and blood (essential yin nutrient) presents with sallow complexion, emaciation, vertigo, heart palpitations and a tongue that is light in color.

Deficiency of liver and kidney presents with vertigo, tinnitus, aching weakness of the loins and knees, feverish sensation in the five centers (palms, soles of the feet and chest), tidal fever, night sweating and a tongue that is darkish-colored.

Secondary Amenorrhea Syndromes
The main symptom of secondary amenorrhea is the stoppage of menstruation for several months or more. In terms of TCM there are three manifestations of this: 1) qi stagnation and blood stasis, 2) cold coagulation and blood stagnation, and 3) phlegm damp obstruction.

A woman suffering from amenorrhea due to qi stagnation and blood stasis has pain in lower abdomen that is worse with pressure, restlessness, is easily angered, distending fullness in the chest and hypochondria and a tongue that is blackish in color.

Amenorrhea caused by cold coagulation and blood stagnation presents with a cold body and limbs, cold pain in the lower abdomen and a tongue that is blackish in color.

A woman with amenorrhea due to phlegm damp obstruction usually presents with obesity, fullness and oppression in the chest and hypochondria, lassitude, lack of spirit, anorexia, profuse sputum, leukorrhagia and a tongue with a greasy fur coating.

Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines
Although the causes and syndromes of amenorrhea are varied and specifically outlined, a single syndrome is rare. The following herbal formulas work well when combined as needed, and are for the following presentations.

  • Nu Ke Ba Zhen Wan (Women’s Precious Teapills) for amenorrhea presenting with qi and blood deficiency.
  • Si Wu Tang (Four Substances for Women) for amenorrhea presenting with blood deficiency.
  • Shi Chuan Da Bu Wan (Ten Flavor Teapills) for amenorrhea presenting with qi and blood deficiency and cold accumulation.
  • Tong Jing Wan (Calm in the Sea of Life) for amenorrhea presenting with severe blood stagnation.
  • Shao Fu Zhu Yu Wan (Stasis in the Palace of Blood) for amenorrhea presenting with blood stagnation with cold accumulation.
  • Tao Hong Si Wu Tang for amenorrhea presenting with blood stasis and blood deficiency.

There are only three things that engender life force (energy) after birth. They are oxygen, water and food. Without these we will die. And each of these affects the blood. So dehydration, malnutrition and low oxygen levels in the blood may also be a cause of your amenorrhea. There is a natural cure for amenorrhea with these herbal formulas, especially so when combined with a change in diet and lifestyle.

–Dr. Mark Wiley

Managing Allergies: An Herbal Approach

Spring and summer present many with a certain nagging problem: allergies. No matter what you do, if you’re prone to allergies you will get them. And each year seems to be worse than the previous one.

Allergic reactions are caused when the immune system reacts to allergens in the environment. Actually, the immune system over-reacts, or works too hard, to battle the symptoms common to allergies. Such symptoms include red, itchy, swollen and/or watery eyes, stuffy or runny nose, post nasal drip, headache, fatigue, itchy throat, dry mouth, coughing and wheezing.

Allergies are generally caused by wind-born pollen from trees, grass, plants or weeds entering the nasal passages. When these allergens collide with the body’s defense systems the nasal mucosa swells, blocks the passageway and can cause sinus infections.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), we say that allergic rhinitis is caused by a deficiency of lung and kidney wei qi (or “defensive energy”; you could call it the immune system). This allows what is termed “wind-cold” (clear mucus) or “wind-heat” (yellow mucus) to retain in the nasal passages and/or lung system. The term “wind” is used to mean an airborne cause.

Luckily, TCM has several natural herbal approaches to remedy these symptoms by balancing the body’s defensive energy. These herbal formulae are Bi Yan Pian, Pe Min Kan Wan and Xin Yi San. Before taking them, you should consult a TCM practitioner to determine your “pattern” of allergic reaction so the correct formula is used. Reading more about them in a simple online search is another way to decide if they are right for you. In any event, these formulas are natural and harmless, meaning they will cause no side effect if an incorrect formula is taken.

Pe Min Kan Wan (Nasal Clear Pills) treats allergies, common colds and nasal or sinus congestion. It does this by dispersing wind, clearing heat, expelling toxins, transforming phlegm and unblocking the nose.

Pe Min Kan Wan is a formula comprised of different herbs including: jin yin hua (honeysuckle), cang er zi (xanthium), ye ju hua (wild chrysanthemum), bai zhi (angelica), e bu shi cao (centipeda) and bo he (mint).

This herbal formula is indicated for wind or wind-heat obstructing the nasal passages. If this formula is for you, you would be experiencing nasal obstruction, copious amounts of clear or white watery nasal discharge, or thick yellow or green nasal discharge, sinus pain, headache, dizziness, sneezing, itchy nose and eyes, heat and redness around the sinus cavities, earache, cough and wheezing. Also, your tongue would be redder in color than usual. This formula is especially effective for nasal or lung problems with an allergic component.

In terms of specific ‘allopathic’ designations, Pe Min Kan Wan possesses anti-inflammatory and mucolutic properties. As such, it effectively treats allergic rhinitis, acute and chronic rhinitis, perennial rhinitis, acute and chronic sinusitis, sinus headaches, frontal headaches, otitis media, allergic asthma, common cold and influenza.

Note: Do not use this formula unless you are experiencing chronic congestion with colored mucus. As this is a drying formula, continued use after congestion and mucus are resolved can dry out the mucus membranes.

Bi Yan Ning (Calm the Nose and Throat) treats allergies, common cold and nasal or sinus congestion. It does this by dispersing wind from the nasal passages, clearing heat, expelling toxins, transforming phlegm and unblocking the nose.

Bi Yan Ning (also spelled Bi Ye Ning), is a formula comprised of different herbs including: cang er zi (xanthium), xin yi hua (magnolia flower), zhu dan zhi (pig bile), e bu shi cao (centipeda), chan tui (cicada shell), huo xiang (agastache), bing pian (borneol), huang qin (scute), dang gui (Chinese angelica), and huang qi (estragalus).

This herbal formula is indicated for wind-heat obstructing the nasal passages with congealing of the nasal fluids. If this formula is for you, you would be experiencing nasal congestion, swollen and inflamed mucus membranes, thick yellow nasal mucus, purulent malodorous mucus, watery mucus, sneezing, reduction or loss of sense of smell, nasal voice, sinus congestion and pain, frontal or sinus headache, dizziness, red itchy eyes, excessive tearing. Your tongue color would be the normal pink to red with a yellow coating.

In terms of specific ‘allopathic’ designations, Bi Yan Pian posses anti-inflammatory, mucolytic and antibacterial properties. As such, it effectively treats allergic rhinitis, acute and chronic rhinitis, perennial rhinitis, acute and chronic sinusitis, sinus headaches, frontal headaches, upper respiratory tract infection, common cold and influenza.

Note: While this formula is similar to Pe Min Kan Wan it is cooler to the body and slightly stronger. Do not use this formula unless you are experiencing chronic congestion with colored mucus. As this is a drying formula, continued use after congestion and mucus are resolved can dry out the mucus membranes.

Xin Yi San (Magnolia Flower Teapills) treats allergies, common cold and nasal or sinus congestion. It does this by dispelling wind-cold, eliminating dampness, unblocking the nose and alleviating pain.

Xin Yi San is a formula comprised of different herbs, including: xin yi hua (magnolia flower), bai zhu (atractylodes), fang feng (siler), sheng ma (cimicifuga), mu tong (akebia), chuan xiong (cnidium), xi xin (asarum), gao ben (ligusticum), gan cao (licorice), and qiang huo (notopterygium).

This herbal formula is indicated for wind-cold invasion attacking the head. If this formula is for you, you would be experiencing nasal and sinus congestion, nasal or sinus pain, copious clear nasal discharge, post-nasal drip, sneezing, sinus or frontal headache, stiff and achy neck and upper back, fatigue, mental cloudiness and loss of sense of smell. Your tongue color would be the normal pink color with a thin white coating.

In terms of specific ‘allopathic’ designations, Xin Yi San posses diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. As such, it effectively treats acute and chronic sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, acute and chronic rhinitis, sinus headaches, frontal headaches, upper respiratory tract infection, common cold and influenza.

Note: There are no reported contraindications with use of this formula.

I hope this brief article on Chinese herbals for allergies helps you to 1) find the correct formula for your issues, and 2) understand that taking a pattern-specific approach is better than the “shotgun” approach of the generic pharma allergy medications or herbal products advertised for “allergies” in general.

It is not necessary for you to experience ALL of the above symptoms within a grouping, but the group that most completely describes the overall pattern of what you are experiencing with your allergies, indicates the formula that is best applied.

It is commonly observed within TCM clinics and hospitals that the long-term result for treating allergies is strengthened with the addition of acupuncture sessions. Additionally, it is highly advised to refrain from consuming any animal milk product during allergy season, especially when infection is present.

These formulas are among the 400 common “Chinese patent herbal formulas” sold all over the world and used for centuries in Asia. They are currently manufactured in pharmaceutical or nutraceutical laboratories that are inspected buy the World Health Organization. As such, the products sold in the United States are GMP Certified and safe A simple online search of these names will bring up a number of sites selling these products. Or you could visit a Chinatown near you.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

How “Chinese” Organs Are Different

Back in the 1970s my father, who is a retired osteopathic physician, took acupuncture classes at Tai Sophia University—the oldest school of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the United States. It was books on acupuncture on his shelves that I saw as a child that inspired me to study this esoteric medicine.

When I asked him why he did not pursue studies in this field he told me that he couldn’t “reconcile the opposing theories of the body (when compared with allopathic medicine) that TCM espoused.” Indeed, the majority of people brought up in the West cannot, either.

To this day I find it interesting when I describe TCM and its patterns of disharmony to people. Most people give me blank stares or uncertain nods. My patients try to understand what I am describing to them, and often have to ask a series of questions until they are able to grasp the general concepts of health I am attempting to get across. Yet these theories are thousands of years old and are continually applied to billions of people in Asia. And the Asian culture is not suffering for it…

Several of my patients are physicians, psychologists or chemists and their doubting stares are plentiful. I know ahead of time that when we get to the lecture part of their consultation I will have to work hard at convincing them of TCM’s concepts of the body. And I do. In some of my articles I also get feedback from readers who cannot fathom what I am sharing, thinking I am ignorant of basic anatomy and physiology. Quite the opposite is true.

The issue is that TCM does not hold the exact same views of the organs and their functions as Western medicine does. This is where the confusion arises in those whose understanding of the body is grounded in Western ideas of biology, anatomy and physiology. Can there really be a different view of the organs even though science has proven them to be a certain way? Indeed there can, when a broader view of the body is taken.

You see, when TCM developed in ancient China, no autopsies were carried out for fear of disrespecting the deceased ancestors. So what is known about each organ was discovered through thousands of years of clinical observation. As a result, the functions of one specific organ in TCM may include the functions of several organs in terms of Western medicine. And the functions of one specific organ in Western medicine may be contained in the functions of several organs in TCM. It’s a matter of terminology, since names like “kidney” and “spleen” were not used when TCM was developed, yet are now imposed on its ideas to help people understand and reconcile TCM and allopathic theories of wellness.

In a nutshell, organs are not only viewed as individual units in TCM, but also as concepts of physiology and pathology. This can all be explained through the concepts of zang-fu organ pairing, the meridian complex, the diurnal flow of qi (energy) and the five element theory. Let’s look at each briefly.

Zang-Fu Organ Pairing
TCM divides the internal organs into zang (nurturing, yin) and fu (transporting, yang) groups. The five Zang organs include the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys. Preserving vital substances is their common characteristic.

The six fu organs consist of the gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, urinary bladder and so-called ‘triple energizer’ (the combined thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities). Transmitting and digesting water and food is their shared characteristic.

The theory of zang-fu organs is concerned with both the physiological functions and the pathological changes of the organs, as well as the interrelationships between them. And these functions and relationships are rooted in the pairing of the zang-fu into the following yin/yang groups: lung and large intestines, stomach and spleen, heart and small intestines, urinary bladder and kidneys, pericardium and triple energizer and gallbladder and liver.

Thus, problems with one organ may affect its partner. A simplified example is when someone has fear or anxiety about public speaking and experiences shallow breathing. Soon they also experience intestinal cramps. In Western terms we say these two things are a result of stress. While stress may be the cause, the relationship between the lungs and large intestines is exemplified.

The Meridian Complex
The meridian energy channels are the pathways in human body through which qi (vital energy) and blood circulate. They form a specific network that communicates with the internal organs and the limbs and connects the upper body to the lower body and the exterior to the interior portions of the body.

Since the meridians are distributed over the entire body, they are what link the zang-fu organs, the orifices, the skin, the muscles and the bones. That is, they bring the body into an organic whole that allows it to carry on and coordinate its systematic activities.

Each organ has a specific meridian that stems from it and connects it with its paired organ and to various parts of the body. This explains why the heart is seen to not only pump blood but also to affect mental functions (the heart meridian goes into the brain).

The Diurnal Flow of Qi
Qi is the vital energy of the body and each organ produces Qi that affects certain activities in the body. This energy moves through the body via the meridian complex. And the energy in each organ meridian is said to be at “high tide” for a two-hour period in a 24 hour cycle, before moving into the meridian of its paired organ.

The lung meridian is most active from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. The large intestines (its paired organ) are most active from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and so on. This explains why people with certain respiratory diseases tend to awaken and wheeze or cough between the hours of 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Most of my patients who wake up with headaches between those hours find that it is due to oxygen deprivation caused either by sinus congestion or from sleeping with their nose buried in their pillows. In other words the headaches are caused by oxygen deprivation when the lungs most need oxygen while at high tide.

The Five Element Theory
The theory of the five elements holds that the world is made up of five basic substances: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. All things and phenomena in nature—as well as in the organs, tissues, physiology and pathology of the human body—can be classified into one of the five elements.

Among the five elements exists the relations of promotion and restriction. The element that promotes is called the mother, while the element that is promoted is called the child.

Since earth produces metal it is called the mother of metal. Since earth is produced by fire it is also called the child of fire. Earth organs are the spleen and stomach, metal organs are the lungs and large intestines and fire organs are the heart and small intestines.

Restriction refers to bringing something under control or restraining it. For example, the element restricting earth is wood (fallen trees cover earth), and the element that is restricted by earth is water (earth absorbs water). This in part explains why excess anger, frustration or obsessions which affect the liver (wood) can cause digestive upset which, in TCM, is the domain of the spleen (earth).

Promotion and restriction are inter-dependant. Without promotion there would be no birth and development. Without restriction, excessive growth would result in harm and damage. When TCM views organs, not only are their pairs important, but so is their element designation and how they play on other organs.

There’s More Than Meets The Microscope
When understood and taken as a comprehensive system, the TCM concepts of the meridian complex, zang-fu organ pairing, diurnal cycle of qi flow, and the five element theory can explain why the organs as viewed in Chinese medicine hold more functions than can be “proven” by biomedicine, where their functions are reduced to individual micro units. I offer two examples.

In terms of TCM, the liver stores blood, regulates the flow of blood in the body, controls the tendons, connects to the nails and opens into the eyes. Thus, the Chinese concept of “liver” refers to an entire energetic system, not merely to the organ itself. And this is why excess, deficiency and stagnation associated with the liver can effect blood circulation, the brain and nervous system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the muscles and the tendons.

The spleen is another good example of differences, since in the West it is not seen as having much use to the body. However, the Chinese concept of the spleen holds a seat of great importance to health. In TCM, the spleen is responsible for transformation of food energy into qi and blood, and the transportation and absorption of water and nutrients through the body. It also insures that blood is held in the vessels and that organs do not become prolapsed.

Thus, the spleen covers the entire digestive system, water metabolism, blood circulation, up-bearing of clear energy to the brain, as well as controlling the muscles and limbs.

In Summary
From the above concepts we can see how a problem with one organ can influence another or several others in ways not normally associated with the organs specifically. And this is why TCM doesn’t reduce signs and symptoms to specific diagnoses based on biological function. Terms like bi-polar disorder and migraine headache and cirrhosis of the liver are not used in TCM. Rather, we use concepts like “liver qi stagnation” or “heart blood deficiency” to describe and explain a syndrome or pattern of disharmony in the body that has many causes and effects… and therefore needs a broader view and approach to heal.

While wellness is viewed in more generalized and metaphoric terms in TCM, it is precisely these concepts that allow its practitioners to construct a holistic view of the body, its illnesses and to treat the whole as opposed to the part. Understanding a new concept of long-held beliefs is difficult, but can also be quite rewarding.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Gentlemen: Is Your Sex Life Killing You?

Sex feels good, and the proper amount of sex can help maintain physical and emotional health. But balance is the key. Both having too little or too much sex can lead to unhealthy conditions. Let us look at the effects of too much sex, too little sex, and what the proper amounts should be based on your age and condition.

How Much Sex Is Too Much?
The theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) warn that a man who engages in too much sex can become what is known as “kidney jing deficient.” Jing is a term that refers to the body’s essential fluids, distilled by the kidneys from what we eat and drink. The kidneys are thought of as the body’s “batteries” and the place where jing is stored. Chinese health theory suggests we are actually equipped with enough jing (life essence) to live 120 years. The problem is we exhaust this essence through poor diet, lack of rest, lack of exercise, the effects of stress, disease and… an unhealthy amount of sex.

Signs and symptoms of kidney jing deficiency include a weakening of the bones, hair loss, a graying of facial color, loosening or loss of teeth, soreness in the lower back, weakness of the legs (particularly behind the knees), poor memory, loss of libido, impotence and a general lack of sexual desire. If you are suffering from any of these signs and symptoms, perhaps you should consider if too much sex is killing you… or at least weakening you.

With too frequent ejaculation, jing (semen, the essence of pure fluids and life energy) is depleted from the body. Moreover, as a man passes middle age, the excessive loss of jing can cause the disastrous effects described above. Like contact sports, sex is a young man’s game. Middle aged and older men need to retain their jing (semen essence) and ejaculate less frequently. (There is an entire art in Yogic and Taoist traditions of men learning to come to orgasm while not releasing a single drop of semen. (More on this in another article)

Two-thousand years ago Su Nu Jing, the classic text on TCM, was published. It advised how much sex/ejaculations are safe for a man to have. For example, a healthy 20-year-old can ejaculate twice per day with no adverse effects. Also, to maintain proper health, the 20-year-old should have a minimum of one ejaculation every four days.

The following chart suggests the sex guidelines from that classic text:

Age
Minimum
Average Health
Good Health
20+Every 4 days1X Day2x Day
30+Every 8 daysEvery other day1x Day
40+Every 16 daysEvery 4 daysEvery 3 days
50+Every 21 daysEvery 10 daysEvery 5 days
60+Every 30 daysEvery 20 daysEvery 10 days

 

Of course, these are rough guidelines set forth within the theories of TCM. This gives you an idea of the frequency a man should have sex in order to maintain good health and balanced emotions.

The average 20-year-old male who is engaging in masturbation three times a day is probably overdoing it. This could possibly affect his grades (poor memory) or affect his tennis match (with weak knees and sore low back).

If you are a 40-year-old executive thinking of having that affair with the 24-year old-intern, you might want to consider if you are in good enough health to survive an extramarital affair. You could wind up suffering from hair loss, aging of the face, low back soreness, weak legs, poor memory, loss of libido, impotence and lack of sexual desire that could cost you your career and your health… not to mention your marriage (if applicable).

How Much Sex Is Too Little?
Keep in mind that no sex at all is unhealthy. Psychologically, it can cause resentment, depression and anxiety. Sex is important for relationships, not just emotionally, but for the organ systems as well. Ladies, when men tell you they feel like they are dying from lack of sex, it’s partially true. In reality, the choked up emotions and lack of connection can cause him to suffer what is known in TCM as liver qi stagnation.

According to TCM theory, the liver functions to move the qi (life energy) freely in the body. So, liver qi stagnation is a pathogenic flow of qi manifesting in some of the following signs and symptoms: feeling of distension in the chest and hypochondrium, sighing, hiccup, melancholy, depression, moodiness, unhappiness and feeling of a lump in the throat. Often the etiology of this syndrome includes emotional problems, a state of anger, frustration and/or resentment.

If this condition persists it can grow into what is called liver fire. The signs and symptoms associated with live fire include irritability, anger, shouting, ringing in the ears, temporal headache, bitter taste in the mouth, dream disturbed sleep, a red face and red eyes. This is the result of long-standing emotional states of anger, resentment or frustration. This can cause problems like high blood pressure, tinnitus, insomnia, migraine headache and the like.

Good sexual relations are a part of good health. Overdoing it can be detrimental to health, and so can too little of it.

My advice: Be happy and be wise in the ways of lovemaking.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Turmeric: Nature’s Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Root

Some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted was cooked in London. I always knew that the British loved Indian cuisine and that they once held governance over India. What I didn’t know was that curry was introduced to Indian cuisine by the Brits. (Just a little fun fact to chew on.)

In countries like India where traditional cultures are thousands of years old, there are deep traditions of cooking daily meals with medicinal roots and herbs. These herbs act as preventive measures for sustaining good health, and prevention is the cornerstone of India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

Turmeric is one such medicinal root that has made its way into a vast number of Indian recipes. Aside from your standard chicken or goat curries, there is a whole list of Indian dishes that contain flavorful thermogenic ingredients like cardamom, coriander, ginger, cloves, chili and turmeric. Not only are the recipes tasty, the ones containing turmeric are especially healthful.

Research by Sarker and his colleagues notes turmeric’s powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antioxidant properties. Moreover, the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have this to say: “Laboratory and animal research has demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties of turmeric and its constituent curcumin.”

It is true that inflammation is a natural response your body has to potentially damaging stimuli. Catch a cold or sprain an ankle and the immune system kicks in and produces swelling to guard while healing takes place. But often the body does not know how or when to stop the inflammation and this causes too much fibrin in the tissues that can lead to pain and stiffness. If left untreated, it can become a chronic health issue.

Unlike aspirin or ibuprophen, turmeric’s curcumin reduces inflammation naturally, without damaging the liver or kidneys. It has been found especially helpful in treating conditions like arthritis, sports injuries, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, tendonitis and various autoimmune diseases. Some research even suggests that curcumin may also help those suffering asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and yes, even cancer.

Since turmeric’s curcumin component is an anti-inflammatory as well as an antioxident agent, it has been used for treating wounds, digestive disorders, liver issues, arthritis and in the prevention of cancer. Statistics also show that Asian children experience less incidence of leukemia than their Western counterparts and it seems a diet rich in turmeric may be the reason why.

Recent studies show that rats that were prone to multiple sclerosis developed very few if any symptoms after being given curcumin. The journal Science reported in their April 23, 2004, issue that curcumin has countered the genetic damage that leads to the lung disorder cystic fibrosis in mice test subjects. It was also shown that curcumin protects against alcohol’s damaging affects on the liver as well as harmonizing the stomach and digestion.

Thousands of scientific articles on the efficacy of curcumin are found within the NIH and NLM’s PubMed MEDLINE database. These show curcumin to be effective in the treatment of inflammation, wounds, cancer, heart disease and as a preventive measure against arthritis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), neurological diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, type-2 diabetes, cataracts, cystic fibrosis, scleroderma and many others.

As if that list were too small, as reported in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Therapies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service lists nearly 80 biologic activities associated with curcumin, from anti-HIV to anti-ulcerogenic actions.

My advice: Everyone enjoy Indian food containing turmeric at least once a week as a symptomatic and preventive measure.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

References:
Cronin, J.R. "Curcumin: Old spice is a new medicine." Journal of Alternative & Complementary Therapies: Feb. 2003, pp. 34-38.

Egan, M.E., et al. “Curcumin, a Major Constituent of Turmeric, Corrects Cystic Fibrosis Defects.” Science, 23 April 2004 304: 600-602 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1093941] (in Reports)

National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements: "Turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.) and Curcumin," US Department of Health and Human Services; Natural Standard Research Collaboration: 2008 ed.: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-turmeric.html

Sarker, S.D., et al. "Bioactivity of Turmeric," Turmeric: The genus Curcuma; Medicinal and Aromatic Plants—Industrial Profiles, edited by Ravindran, P.N., et al. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2007.

One Cause, Many Ailments: How One Simple Imbalance Can Lead To Many Chronic Problems

When considering the assessment and maintenance of health, there are radical differences between the methods of Western and Eastern medicine. On a broad scope, it can be said that where Western medicine focuses on content (specific body parts and their associated symptoms), Eastern medicine focuses on context (the symptoms as they relate to and effect the entire body).

Consider this list of 10 ailments. Did you know that all of them can be caused by (or stem from) the same underlying condition? Can you guess what it is? Give it a try; here’s the list:

  1. tension-type headaches
  2. tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  3. “knots” in the back of the neck
  4. “rocks” in the shoulders
  5. “sore” chest muscles
  6. irritability
  7. poor sleep
  8. chronic “achy” feeling
  9. numbness or tingling of the arms and/or hands
  10. trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain)

Give up? The answer is Forward Head Posture (FHP). All 10 problems can be associated with this same underlying cause.

FHP Described
FHP is one of the most common postural problems we experience on a chronic basis. It is our modern lifestyle that is responsible for it—as we’ll see in a minute. In essence, FHP is the result of either repetitive forward head movement, or the carrying (holding) of the head in a position that is forward of the shoulder plum-line.

Proper postural alignment finds ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears all falling along the same vertical central line. The relatively heavy head must rest directly on the neck and shoulders, like a golf ball on a tee. Yet, FHP finds the head sticking out, jutting forward of the shoulders, with the ears in line with the chest or front of the deltoids.

Cause And Effect
FHP can be caused by many things. Here is a list of five of the more common ones:

  1. looking down toward your hands while typing or reading
  2. looking into a microscope
  3. sitting improperly with shoulders rounded and back hunched
  4. driving with your head more than 2 to 3 inches from the headrest
  5. carrying a backpack or heavy purse slung over one shoulder

These are not all of the causes of FHP, but enough to make the point. The problem is that repeated forward and/or downward facing postures cause concurrent hypotonic (lengthening) and hypertonic (shortening) of several major muscles (i.e., lavater, rhomboid, trapazious, pectoral), degeneration of cervical (neck) vertebrae and irritation of cervical nerves.

According to literature from the Mayo Clinic, “FHP leads to long term muscle strain, disc herniation, arthritis, and pinched nerves.” (Mayo Clinic Health Letter, V.18, #3, March 2000)

Did you know that pinched or irritated nerves, tightened muscles and isometric contraction (which occurs when the neck must hold upright a forward leaning head), all cause pain as a result of “stagnation of blood, fluids and qi energy). And when there is blockage or stagnation, there is pain.

What You Can Do
Now that we’ve identified a single underlying cause of many problems, the next step is correcting the problem. And what better way to do this than following the simple idea of returning the body to homeostasis: That is, rebalancing what is imbalanced. Here are four simple things you can do to correct (balance) FHP.

• Lying Head Raise: Lay face down on the floor with your hands overlapped and held on your lower back. Lift and extend your head and shoulders up, while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for three seconds, and repeat 15 times. Do this three times per day.

• Chin Tuck: Hold your shoulders straight. Stick your chin out to the front and hold for three seconds. Pull your chin in as far back as it will go and hold for three seconds. Repeat six times. Do this three times per day.

• Chin To Chest Stretch: Overlap your fingers and place both hands behind your head. Use your hands to push your head down so your chin goes toward your chest. Do NOT lower your head and then press with your hands, as this defeats the idea of the stretch. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and return to the upright position. You should feel a stretch between your shoulders. Repeat three times. Do this three times per day.

• Doorway Stretch: Stand with both feet parallel behind (but in the center of) a door frame. Place one arm 90-degrees along the side of the doorframe facing you. If your right arm is touching the frame, then your right foot takes a long step forward. Be sure to bend your knee, as if you were really trying to walk forward. You should feel a nice stretch across your chest. If not, turn your body to the left. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times then switch sides. Do this three times per day.

Here are a few simple ways to adjust your daily activities to prevent FHP from taking hold in your body—or returning after balance is achieved:

  • Make sure the top of your computer screen is level with your eyes, and about two feet away from your face.
  • Be sure to carry a back pack squarely over both shoulders to balance the weight distribution.
  • If you carry a heavy purse or duffel bag, it is better to sling it diagonally across the torso.
  • Have ample lower back support while sitting or lying for prolonged periods, as a lax position leads to slouching, which can lead to FHP.

Conclusion
You may remember from a previous article that we discussed three causes of pain, illness and disease as stemming from a deficiency, excess or stagnation in the body? Well, FHP leads to all three at the same time. Excessive forward head posture leads to lengthening of upper back muscles (excess), which causes shortening of pectoral muscles (deficiency), which leads to impinged nerves (stagnation), which leads to pain. And all this simply because the body does what it has to in an effort to maintain balance.

It’s better to maintain balance on our own and to prevent such imbalances to take hold in the body. When the body does it on its own… it hurts so much more.

— Dr. Mark Wiley