Why You and Your Parents Don't Need To Suffer As you Age

Does it bother you to think of yourself getting older? It bothers me. I can feel the aches and the pains already. I can feel the slow but definite decline in energy, flexibility and strength of my body. I can sense the descent of my intellect and the clouding of my memory. Fewer adventures and more routines. More trips to the doctor’s office and more need for my friends and family to take care of me. But that’s the reality, isn’t it? I mean, I guess we’re all going the same way, so why not just accept it?

If the above narrative doesn’t sit well for you, then you have made it to the right place. Somehow in the vast expanse of internet land, you made it here. Congrats!

Everything I have seen in my short but lively career as a Chinese medicine practitioner suggests that most of the negative experiences we associate with the aging process need not come to pass. But in order to understand how our experience may differ from the common definition of aging, we must look at why suffering is a possibility as we age. Once we understand the problem, then we may understand its solution.

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How Bugs Can Heal Chronic Pain & Disease

“I hate to sound like a broken record,” said one of my teachers, “but a lot of her problem is due to blood stagnation.”

Dr. Greg Livingston and I were chatting before one of our herbal shifts at the school clinic. We were discussing the details of a diagnosis that one of our patients had been given on the shift the week before. Blood stagnation is the name of a pattern that we learn to identify and treat in Chinese medicine. According to the medicine, stagnant blood is the root of many illnesses. If blood doesn’t flow correctly, pain will result and various organ systems will become undernourished. Malnourishment and lack of flow will then cause other problems and lead to a whole host of diseases and bizarre symptoms.

I smiled at Greg’s remark. It was a familiar piece of advice, but one that bared repeating. Greg was one of the few westerners to go to China, learn chinese, finish a P.H.D. in Chinese medicine, and then study with various doctors who had decades of clinical experience. Greg got excellent results in the clinic. He consistently understood and could explain why he would give treatment the way that he did. He was one of the teachers that I had become closest to while in school. He is someone that I still consider a friend and mentor to this day.

“But why use the bugs Greg?” I asked after glancing at the patient’s herbal formula. “What would lead you to the conclusion that we need to break the blood?”

My question was linked to the way we learn to classify herbs as singular medicinals at school. The category in Chinese medicine that most of the insect medicinals are placed in, is called move the blood. The move the blood category has several gradients of intensity, the strongest of which is called break the blood. That is where the bug medicinals reside.

“Well,” he replied, “the bugs don’t necessarily move the blood any more intensely than Dang Gui 当归 (Angelica Sinensis) or Chuan Xiong 川芎 (Sichuan Lovage), what makes them unique is that they go to the luo mai.”

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Let's be honest... You are lying.

The world of natural health and healing is no stranger to bold claims. Many of us stand at odds with the status quo in healthcare. We are trying to change the way people think about their bodies and their relationships to disease and to accomplish those changes sometimes we get loud. We rely on inflammatory headlines (like this one) to draw people into an article or to a video. Sometimes that reliance on bold text crosses over into hyperbole and then into unsubstantiated claims about this food or that drug; about how Monsanto is trying to kill us all because Round-Up was originally designed to clean pipes (it wasn't); about how the environment is so full of mold and toxic chemicals that we all need to be regularly detoxing to avoid the diseases of modern living (interesting idea but you're gonna need to support that with some data). Here's my favorite one lately and the inspiration for this post:

"I would never feed me or my kids margarine. It's one molecule away from plastic."


This handy little comparison has been applied to lots of processed foods to illustrate their deeply harmful nature.

"Cool whip is one molecule away from styrofoam or "Cheez Wiz is only two molecules different from garbage bags"

So here's the thing: that might be true. I actually don't know what the chemical composition is of margarine or Cool Whip or Cheez Wiz nor do I know how it compares to plastic. But that really doesn't matter. I know it seems like it might. But it definitely doesn't because lots of things are just one molecule or one DNA pair away from other things and yet those things are not at all the same. They don't have the same properties or effects on the body or the environment. For example: Humans are just a few DNA links away from Chimps. Or how about Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2)? It is one atom (not even a molecule which is a collection of atoms and much larger than a single atom) away from water (H2O). How bout you fill me up a big glass of Hydrogen Peroxide since it is only one atom away from water, it must be roughly the same right? Or if you don't like thinking about it that way, you'll need to immediately stop drinking water since it is only one atom different from Hydrogen Peroxide and is probably subtly killing your gut bacteria leading to leaky gut syndrome right? The whole comparison is patently ridiculous. 

Ok but you never fell for those kinds of memes or chain emails. You're not an anti-vaxxer or a heavy metal chelator or a chronic detoxer. You like to be healthy, eat good food, be responsible as often as possible. Awesome! That is great news! But there are some things we need to talk about. Because margarine IS a terrible product. So are Cheez Wiz and Cool Whip. And we need to talk about why they are bad products in all the ways that they are bad -- the resources used to manufacture them, the actual ingredients they contain and the verifiable effect those ingredients have on health, the environmental cost to producing the food and its packaging, and let's not forget about the taste! Those products taste terrible, especially once you free your Patty Hearst tastebuds from the stockholm sydrome they're processing from years of eating crap food. But one of the reasons that margarine and all the rest are terrible foods is not because they are one molecule away from plastic (if that is even accurate). And making statements like that one ping hard on rational radars as indicators for people who are so far gone from reasonable discussion that they can be discounted. Perpetuating false narratives about problematic foods or chemicals or processes only leads us into folly where the people who could actually regulate those industries and make changes to benefit us all, see the people screaming hysterical alarm as poorly informed lemmings who listen to the opinions of the Medical Medium and Gwenyth Paltrow as gospel and internalize their fringe points of view to help foment their distrust.

Classically, in order for a person to tell a lie, the person speaking must know that what they are saying is false. There is a presumption in the word lie that there is some intent to deceive -- to misrepresent what the speaker knows is true for some particular gain, often a gain considered nefarious or at least self-interested. So when I tell you that it's time to stop lying, maybe I'm reaching too far. Maybe you didn't know that what you were saying was false, but so much of what I see repeated on the internet is so obviously false or can be determined false with about three minutes of Googling, that it's hard to not hold people accountable for the crap they are perpetuating. 

What am I talking about?

I work in an “alternative” medicine field. I practice Chinese Medicine in America where our medical system is at best dysfunctional and at worst actively working to prevent people from getting the care they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. In this miasma of complex health pathologies, many people are looking for answers to their woes. They are looking to understand why they can’t stop coughing or why they always feel tired; why they can’t seem to sleep or why their libido is way lower than they would like. For so many of these conditions, biomedicine has little in the way of an answer. If all the blood tests come back negative and the symptoms don’t fit a known disease, well… just wait to ‘til it gets worse then come back to see us. Maybe we’ll know what’s wrong then.


Trouble is, people want to know WHY, and they are going to look for answers wherever they can find them, and today that means going to Google and asking the question. You might find a forum for people with your symptoms or a WebMD article that hopefully doesn’t suggest you likely have cancer. You might commiserate with the online communities you have discovered and learn about different treatment options that “mainstream medicine” isn’t talking about. You might even learn about how some environmental toxin (mold, heavy metals, pesticides) or a food component (gluten, casein, fructose) is likely the cause of your myriad symptoms — how Big Pharma and Big Ag are conspiring with corporate america to keep you sick because there is good money in your illness. You might start to feel beaten down, taken advantage of, and then a lot people start to get mad. They become zealots for a new “healthy” living movement. They listen to gurus and life coaches and many of them arrive at an “alternative” clinic wanting to know how Acupuncture can help them overcome the Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) symptoms that are manifesting as fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, and depression. They read about a woman in Boulder who was able to completely get rid of her autoimmune condition by eating only sprouted greens and bananas and using Chinese Medicine therapies. They want to know what herbs they can take to help purge the heavy metals from the fillings in their teeth and what sort of cleanses they can do to get rid of the unnamed toxins coursing through their bodies every day. And because people in medicine are usually in that business because they want to help people, we answer their questions and guide them along our own experiences and impart our own biases and points of view. It’s completely natural this whole process. And its completely misguided.

Don’t get me wrong. Heavy metals and pesticides are dangerous and harmful. Mold can set up shop in your sinuses and lungs and cause all sorts of problems. Unmanaged hormones and neurotransmitters can wreak havoc on people’s sense of health and well-being. The problem comes in when we start to assume that we are not actually part of the world around us. That we are individuals, fighting against other individuals, fate, and the poor choices of people in the past instead of realizing that we are a continuum. Not people in a continuum but the continuum itself. We are just as responsible for processing chemical contaminants, as we see them, as the rocks and the oceans, and the clouds. We are dynamic members of complex web of living creatures and biomes but we construct our realities. We give breath and life to our diseases. We give in to the idea, created millenia ago, that our bodies are corrupt and will ultimately betray us either through their irrepressible desires or through their inevitable mechanical failure.

Instead, we have to begin the practice of seeing ourselves as part of the global whole, not truly separate from other living things on the planet, certainly not separate from other humans, and definitely not independent of the people that have come before us. Our health is a complex constellation of factors that is more than a little influenced by our internal narratives, and commiseration can be empowering to know that you are not alone in your struggle but can quickly become a toxic echo chamber where a path out is beset on all sides by people selling snake oil. No matter what your suffering looks like, there is a way to feel better. It relies on you more than on celery juice enemas or high-quality supplements that cost a lot of money. It requires that you lean into your history and on the wisdom of humans collected over the 30,000 years we have been wandering the planet. Harmony with the world around you, not viewing disagreement as conflict and conspiracy, feeling the changes in the seasons and shifting your lifestyle accordingly, giving yourself the empowered permission to make big changes in your life that might at first glance seem impossible — these are just some of the practices that lead us away from the outrage that margarine is only one molecule away from plastic (factual reality still unknown) and into an informed intellectual position where we can truly assess the claims of healers and salespeople without the weight of conspiracy and exploitation at the front of our minds.


The time is now. Stop sharing BS articles that aren’t based in reality. Stop feeding your outrage machine. Embrace your life as it is and ease into change when it feels right. Cultivate your appetites for food and distraction. Give yourself permission to be powerful and in control but also know that leaning into the swirling river around you is often the best way to find satisfaction. You got this.


Bulk Herbs and the Power of Decoction

A Post for Practitioners

(but you can read it even if you’re not one)


When people think back to the origin of our medicine, images of people searching the forests and fields for special plants and minerals that could cure pathological conditions is certainly part of the imagery. Those ingredients, broadly referred to as herbs even though many of them are animal parts or minerals, became the cornerstone of the internal components of what would evolve into Chinese Medicine today. Indeed, the use of powerful herbs is not unique to East Asia and not even unique to pre-modern people. Some assessments put over 80% of modern pharmaceuticals have their origins in compounds derived from plants and animals. Searching for balance or counterbalance in the natural world is perhaps one of the most unifying characteristics of human beings across all cultures and all times.

As a contemporary practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I lean heavily on the knowledge of our predecessors and on the refinement of their craft that is represented by the literal millennia of case studies and commentary on those case studies that form the bulk of the classical basis for modern practice. I look to formulations of different herbs that have been tried and found effective in clinical practice nearly every time that I want to help a patient with their different problems and wellness limitations. And when I finally put together the treatment plan for those conditions, I almost always reach to whole plant medicine. In the same way that I want to eat whole foods as close to their form in nature as possible, so too do I want to build remedies that are as close to the natural world as possible. Our bodies are evolved to process and utilize that which it understands and it struggles to make use of that which is unknown or unrecognizable.

instant pot.jpg

Yet we all know that patient compliance is often a challenge when prescribing herbal medicine. Cooking herbs into medicinal tea can be time-consuming for people and confusing for patients to navigate on their own. Even patients with the time and intention find themselves forgetting to prepare herbs or using methods that don’t yield the most potent solution. So in our pharmacy we decided to cut out the compliance middleman and do the work ourselves. Using filtered and mineralized water, Root & Branch will cook your patient’s herbs for them to make sure they get the most potent brew to help resolve their ailments.

We use electric pressure cookers to decoct herbs in our shop. We have experimented extensively with cook times, temperatures, and water levels to create a process that produces potent extractions. We are able to maintain the volatile components of short boil herbs by condensing them back into the decoction or by using a more traditional “add at the end” method. If you use our decoction services, please specify “add at the end” when building your formula if that is your preference. All of our decoctions leave the shop in sanitized, reusable, tempered-glass jars that keep those decoctions food safe in the refrigerator for as many as 10 days.  But please adhere to the “Best-Buy” date in your patient’s herb packet.

Important Points about Decoction Service at R&B

 1.) Because of food safety concerns with shipping, decoction Service is only available for patients who are able to come to the pharmacy in person to pick up their cooked herbs.

2.) R&B cooks  1 day’s herbs (usually also one bag) into one (1), 16oz jar of finished decoction. Dosing therefore is usually 1/2 jar (8oz) per dose, 2 times per day. Exact volume will vary depending on the herbs in a formula and the number of days being cooked. IF YOU NEED EXACT VOLUMES FOR YOUR PATIENTS, you may want your patients to cook their herbs at home.

3.) In order to guarantee that decoctions are fresh and safe to consume, R&B CANNOT decoct more than 7 days worth of herbs at a time (i.e. no more than seven jars of decoction at a time).

4.) From the time payment is received for herbs, it usually takes 2.5 hours for the herbs to be cooked, cooled, and packaged. Please advise your patients accordingly. They will receive a text notification that there herbs are ready for pick-up.

5.) Decoction service costs $3.00 which pays for a portion of the jars and carriers, as well as the labor to wash, sanitize, and restock the equipment


Behold The Humble Ginger Root: Understated Workhorse of Good Health

ginger root.jpg

Ah the ginger root — the edible rhizome of the flowering ginger plant Zingiber officinale. This increasingly common kitchen herb has many more tricks up its sleeve besides making your curries and stir-frys really sing.

Chinese Medicine assigns two types of descriptors to any sort of herb or food - Nature and Flavor.

These two categories of description tell us about the intrinsic qualities of a plant, animal, or mineral and give us insight into how to use that item either as food, medicine, or both. Fresh Ginger has a warm nature and an acrid/pungent/spicy flavor.

Items that are warm in nature have effects that fit with that word. In the case of ginger in particular, it has the ability to warm the body physically, especially throughout the digestive system and even on the surface of the skin. We often find ginger combined with foods that tend to be cooler in nature like pork or shrimp and many people have used it for generations to ease an upset stomach. In fact, it is one of the key ingredients in remedies to relieve morning sickness.

As for it’s flavor, you might see acrid, pungent, or spicy used to describe this plant because finding the exact word to translate the Chinese word xīn 辛 is a challenge. None the less, if you were to bite into a slice of fresh ginger, you would get a real sense for the potent flavor of this root.

Ginger Root as your Winter Defender

Fresh ginger’s nature and flavor give it a particularly powerful ability to prevent a nascent cold or flu pathogen from getting settled into your system and wreaking havoc. So get some fresh ginger root when you are at the store next. Store it in the pantry with your potatoes and onions so that you will be prepared this season.

Now you know the feeling: you wake up one morning and you feel a little off. Nothing super obvious but a little slower, maybe a slight ache in your neck and a tickle in the throat. You’re not sick but you feel like you might be soon.

That is the time to grab your ginger and follow these instructions:

Ginger Tea.jpg

1.) Take about 2 inches of ginger or a piece about the size of your thumb and slice into thin pieces.

2.) Put the slices into a large-ish coffee mug and cover with boiling water

3.) Let that ginger steep until the liquid is drinkable, about 5 minutes

4.) Strain out the ginger pieces and mix in a spoonful of local honey, molasses, or good quality brown sugar.

5.) Drink your spicy ginger tea with its slight sweetness until its all gone. Then immediately hop into a hot shower.

6.) Wash up in the hot water until you’ve got a slight sweat going on. Change the temp to something a little cooler. Finish up and dry off.

7.) Bundle up and stay covered through the day, especially your back and neck and if you’re outside, cover your head too. Stay out of the wind or drafty areas.

8.) Drink lots of water throughout the day and eat your veggies. Lots of ‘em!

When you get home from work or school, you can repeat this process including the hot shower. The goal here is facilitate your body’s natural pathogen fighting abilities and push the infection out through your pores. Using ginger like this at the very first sign of sickness is essential to making it work for you. Wait too long and the picture will change and you’ll need more expert help to get better.

I tried it but I’m still feeling sick!

Now sometimes, you miss the window where ginger alone is effective for stopping colds. In that case Chinese Medicine has several more tricks up its sleeve to help you get better. And one of the best parts about those tricks is that they often involve more honey, cinnamon, and dates. Treating cold and flu is definitely one of our betting tastes remedies!

If you feel like you haven’t been able to kick out that icky feeling before it took hold, get in touch with a Chinese Medicine provider in your area ASAP before that sore throat turns into something much more nasty.

Falling Leaves and Changing Winds

Travis Kern, L.Ac.

The transition from Summer to Fall is a marked one in most parts of the US. Not only do the days start to shorten and the temperatures get cooler but many people start to get excited about the coming holiday seasons. Whether spending time with family or loved ones, going on trips, playing out meaningful traditions, or just getting a few minutes of pensive reflection, the fall season reminds us all of the continuous change intrinsic to all of our environments.

Historically and still in many parts of the world, Fall is the time of harvesting and fruition; of storing away the potent Yang that has dominated these last several months so that in the coming months ruled by the dark and cold Yin, we have enough motive force to sustain our lives and activities. This process is easiest to see in the picking, processing, and canning of late summer fruits and vegetables. If you’ve ever grown tomatoes or green beans, you know that those four plants you started in May are now overfilled with ripe fruit, more than you could ever eat, and it’s time to pack their nutrients away to help satisfy your appetites come Winter.

But it is not only in food and eating that the Fall season can be experienced. Indeed, our activity and movement during this time of year also changes. Many of us know the feeling of wanting to curl up on the couch with a warm drink and watch our favourite films or read a great book. Humans start to feel slower and disinclined to make intense physical efforts. This tendency is our natural movement toward the hibernation of the eventual winter season when we need to conserve our energy and our effort because making big things happen during the cold of the coming Winter can be difficult and almost always depleting.

Fall is also the Chinese Medicine season of dryness and even though in many parts of the country fall brings increased rain, the air begins to chap our faces and lips and the ground starts to crack as the chill begins, reflecting the systemic dryness of the season. Foods that are moistening and supportive of the lung from a Chinese Medicine point of view are a must during this time of year.

The Interaction of Yin and Yang


The classic Taiji symbol has been common in American consciousness since the early 90s at least. That swirl of white and black doesn’t usually draw profound contemplation from Western people but it is indeed a powerfully simple image of a very complex idea. It would be easy to imagine that Yin and Yang have moral qualities because of our Western dualistic mindset (for more on that check out this blog post). Yet, the dark and cold qualities of Yin are not bad things just as the movement and activity of Yang are not good things. They have no moral dimension and they are both absolutely required in order for life to move forward and flourish.

What is movement with no substance or earth with no animation? The interaction of Yin and Yang form the essential elements of all things both living and not. They are descriptors of things and of changes between states of being. They can be used as all the parts of speech and each aspect gives us more insight into the complexity of existence. Profound indeed.

But it’s hot where I live. Like, all the time. In every season…

When we talk about the changes in season, the theories we expound on here are rooted in the the patterns and times of Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and a latitude roughly equivalent to central France. If you lived in Australia or Brasil, your seasons would happen in different months but they would still happen. And though most of us think of the change in season as a change in the temperature of the air, the ancient Chinese considered many more factors than the sensation of hot or cold in the air. Spring is the time when new plants sprout and grow powerfully. Summer provides the necessary sunlight to grow the bulk of our food. Fall is the time of harvest and storage. Winter is the season of conservation and contemplation. Regardless of the exact temperature of your particular locale, these qualities present themselves in every place, every year. OF course we have all experienced a warmer Christmas or a really wet autumn, but these weather based assessments are only one aspect of the season. Tapping into how you feel in your body, of what your experience is during any given month in the year is the best way to begin to sense the environmental and cosmic changes that are happening all the time.

This Moon and the Coming Qi Node

Knowing how cosmic changes affect us on our little blue planet is no small feat. I use calendar notes and updates to keep me in the loop and even then I planted my tomatoes two days after a full moon (those in the know are aghast and those that aren't, let's just say you're not supposed to plant things after a full moon). Knowing your seasons can continue to live in the broad strokes but if you are interested, the rabbit hole can go as deep as you like. 


2nd Moon of Autumn

September 9th was the second moon in the fall seasonal cycle. The first moon is when the season’s movement begins and by the 2nd moon, humans start to feel the qualities we associate with the season. By the 3rd moon, the season feels in full swing.


Qi Node: Autumnal Equinox (Qiu Fen)

September 22nd marks the even divide between daytime and nighttime where the cooler days and falling leaves mark the tangible presence of Autumn

Things to Eat:

Pears and Apples
Winter Squash like Butternut and Pumpkin
Last of the veges from the garden
Sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips
Medium aged cheese like Brie and Roblochon
The best cuts of beef

Things to Do:

Eat lighter meals, maybe skip a dinner
Switch to darker brews of all your drinks
Start collecting your cool weather gear
Keep your neck covered when outside
Bake some pumpkin bread
Take a canning class in your area

Things to Cook:


broccoli rabe acorn squash.jpg

serves: 8 as a side, 4 as a main

notes: You can make your own balsamic glaze by reducing balsamic vinegar in a saucepan, but I find it easier (and usually economically advantageous) to buy a pre-made, high-quality glaze. If you have dried rosemary on hand, you could substitute it for the fresh by reducing the amount to 2 teaspoons. Last one: I used the fancy, truffled marcona almonds from Trader Joe's for the garnish here and it was spectacular.

2 small-medium acorn squashes
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (from roughly 1 sprig)
½ cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup vegetable stock
1 medium shallot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage (from roughly 1 sprig)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
½ bunch broccoli rabe, tough ends of stems trimmed
3 tablespoons dried currants
2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
3 tablespoons marcona almonds, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the acorn squashes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. Then, cut each of the seeded squash halves in half once more. You should have 8 evenly sized wedges once you’re done with both squashes.

Place the squash wedges facing up on the parchment-lined baking tray. Brush the squash flesh with about half of the olive oil. Season all of the squash with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the minced rosemary over top. Slide the tray into the oven and roast the squash for 35-40 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

While the squash is roasting, combine the rinsed quinoa, vegetable stock, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until all of the stock is absorbed and the quinoa has puffed up. Set aside.

In a large pot with a well-fitting lid, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced shallots to the pot and stir. Cook until shallots are translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the diced celery and carrot and stir. Cook until all of the vegetables are slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add the minced sage and garlic to the pot and stir. Chop the broccoli rabe into bite-sized pieces and add it to the pot.

Stir the vegetables to coat and season with salt and pepper. Add a ¼ cup of water to the pot and place the lid on top. Let the broccoli rabe steam in the pot for about 3-4 minutes. Then, remove the lid and stir in the cooked quinoa and dried currants. Remove the pot from the heat.

Place roasted squash wedges on a serving platter and carefully spoon the broccoli rabe and quinoa stuffing into the natural cavities of the squash. Drizzle all of the stuffed squash pieces with the balsamic glaze and garnish with the chopped marcona almonds. Serve immediately.

Recipe Credit: The First Mess

Hazy Days of Summer and the Coming Change

Travis Kern, L.Ac.

Here in the Pacific NW, it takes a while for the weather to reflect the season. In fact, it's common wisdom in Portland that if you schedule an event outdoors before the 4th of July and it rains, well, you should have known better. It rains a lot here. After the 4th though, you're golden. Work and play outside to your heart's content. It will be dry, warm, and the sun will be shining. It is extra interesting to me then that the last moon of summer is today, July 12th. For the next thirty days we will experience the final moon cycle for this season that seems to have just begun. What is going on?

Chinese Cosmology

The way that the ancient Chinese understood the universe is incredibly complex. Like all developed ancient cultures, the sages of the past looked to the stars to understand what was happening on the earth, and they took cues from the cyclical movement of the cosmos. Over millennia, this observation developed into understanding and eventually into concrete systems to explain current events, guide healthy activity, and even predict what might happen in the future. The ancient Chinese were masters of patterns and applied what they found to all aspects of life. 

Based on ancient observations and teachings, the Chinese divide the year into four seasons which each have 3 moons. A moon is counted at the new moon, when the sky is dark and no moon is visible, and progresses through the full moon until the next dark sky and its new moon. This gives us 12 moons per year (roughly, there are exceptions like with everything).

Each of these moons is also divided into two qi movements or "qi nodes" that give us further insight into the movement of the qi during that part of any season. That gives us a total of 24 qi nodes for the year. Keeping track of these different movements throughout the year can help us dive more deeply into matching our food and activites to what is happening in the broader context of the season and the stars. 

How Does It Work?

To create some context for all this moon and qi node stuff, let's look at some broad strokes first:

Every season's first moon is when the nature of that season is just beginning to take hold so it always still feels like the season right before. Then every season's last moon is when the season feels like it is finally in full bloom. So it takes the course of the three moons for the qi of a season to build up enough to push out into our environments. Of course one way to decide what season you are in has to do with the temperature of the air and the amount of rain or snow a place gets, but we all know that the weather is not the same everywhere in the world. But the nature of season is constant in every part of the planet, even if there might still be snow on the ground in Chicago in April. That is, there are other factors that describe any given season beyond the temperature and the amount of sunshine. We know, for example. that Spring is the season for renewal and growth (the plants come back, the flowers bloom), the Summer is a time of activity and change (it's generally warm out, the days are longer to get more done), the Fall is a time of harvest and preparation (an abundance of crops, a time to prepare and preserve for the lean months coming), and of course the Winter is a time for going slow, preserving your energy, and contemplating. And of course cuddles. Never forget about the cuddles, though they work well in any season.

Each season has is own nature that shapes what we do, what the plants and animals do, and finding harmony with that cycle is one of the paths to good living.

This Moon and the Coming Qi Node

Knowing how cosmic changes affect us on our little blue planet is no small feat. I use calendar notes and updates to keep me in the loop and even then I planted my tomatoes two days after a full moon (those in the know are aghast and those that aren't, let's just say you're not supposed to plant things after a full moon). Knowing your seasons can continue to live in the broad strokes but if you are interested, the rabbit hole can go as deep as you like. 


3rd Moon of Summer

The warmth of Yang Qi is everywhere. The season is in full swing.

Fire swirls.jpg

Qi Node: Greater Heat (Da Shu)

July 22nd marks the culmination of the summer energy and the last build up to the Full Moon, when the qi will begin to descend to Fall.

Things to Eat:

Peaches and Stone Fruits
Citrus of all kinds
Snap peas and Green Beans
Tropical Fruit
Fresh Cheeses like Mozzarella and Chevre
Fish and Seafood

Things to Do:

Eat lighter meals
Enjoy a nice lager
Sit on the back porch
Keep getting up with the sun
Bake something sweet and delicious
Start gathering your canning supplies

Things to Cook:

Fish Tacos with Pineapple Slaw and Chipotle Cream

fish tacos.jpg

12 oz firm white fish (Hake, cod, halibut, or sole)
2 slices of fresh whole pineapple, ½ inch thick (no need to core)
1½ cups cabbage, shredded
1 lime, zested and cut in half
½ cup plus 1 tbsp sour cream
¼ cup diced onions,1/4 inch dice
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp sea salt, divided
½ tsp freshly ground pepper, divided
½ tsp red pepper, divided
¼ tsp cumin
½ - 1 chipotle, finely diced (according to taste)
8 Corn tortilla's

1. Heat grill.
2. Season fish with ¼ tsp pepper, ¼ tsp sea salt and ¼ tsp red pepper.
3. Squeeze juice from ½ lime over fish. Set aside.
4. Place cabbage, onions and cilantro into a medium sized bowl. 
5. Add 1 tbsp sour cream, juice from ½ lime, 1/2 the lime zest, sugar, ¼ tsp red pepper, ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper, and ½ tsp
sea salt. Mix all ingredients together. Then pour over the cabbage mixture and toss to combine.
6. Place ½ cup sour cream, chipotle, and cumin into small bowl. Mix well to incorporate all ingredients. Set aside. This will be your chipotle cream topping
7. Lightly oil a piece of aluminum foil for the grill and place fish on top of foil (prevents the fish from falling through the grate).
8. Cook fish for 10- 12 minutes, turning once during cooking time, or until fish is white and flaky (time is dependent
on thickness of fish fillet).
9. At the same time the fish is cooking, place pineapple slices on open grill, the amount of time to caramelize is
about the same time for the fish,10-12 minutes. Turn once half way through cooking.
10. Warm corn tortilla's on the grill (if there is room), or wrap them in aluminum foil and place in the oven to warm at
350 for 15 to 20 minutes.
11. Once fish is done, remove from grill and cover with foil to keep warm.
12. Remove pineapple from the grill and allow to cool a few minutes for handling.
13. Cut pineapple slices away from the core and chop.
14. Add pineapple to cabbage mixture and toss to combine.
15. Assemble tacos, evenly dividing the fish, pineapple slaw, and chipotle cream onto the warm corn tortillas.
16. Serve immediately.

Chinese Medicine is NOT Energy Medicine

Travis Kern MAcOM, L.Ac.

Feel the resonant, cosmic, potent, masculo/feminine, Gaia/Kwan Yin presence

Feel the resonant, cosmic, potent, masculo/feminine, Gaia/Kwan Yin presence

Ok, ok, ok! Put down the crystals friend. I'm not insulting your sense of energy and the flow of cosmic forces through the human experience. Well, I'm not directly insulting those sensibilities, but I am questioning how we understand the language of Chinese Medicine and by extension a whole host of "New Age" concepts like energy healing, auras, chakras, vibrational medicine, and many many others. And by the way, the New Age is hardly New any more. It fact, it has it's own vocabulary, jargon, and style that gives it a distinctly dated feel. 

So here's the rub: Saying that Chinese Medicine or Reiki or Yoga or Aura Atunements are energy medicine makes a significant assumption about the nature of reality -- an assumption that is based on a distinctly Western understanding of what it means to be real and extant and is heavily influenced by the moral dimensions of Christian thought, especially the sort of Christian thought that was brought to the American colonies by our ancestors. So there are really two dimensions of assumptions that I want to explore. The first has do with what is real and the second has to do with Satan waiting for your in the wilderness. Let's begin.

Primary Assumption in the term Energy Medicine: You can understand what is real and you are distinctly part of "real"

This assumption asserts that reality is a collection of solid objects that are animated by another force called "energy" or "spirit" or "vibration," and it is this other force, separate from the solid objects that it animates, that creates the activity of life. It doesn't matter which word you use to describe this separate force because they are all touching on the same idea, and they all conjure a similar image to mind -- that of the meat-filled, skin bag human excited and propelled by an ethereal, mysterious force that might be translucent like Casper, glow from the fingertips like an Xman, or pulse around the body like a rainbow disco show only visible to those with the gift.

This image presumes that human beings are composed of two opposing, dualistic natures, one of substance with little character which is plagued by base instincts and another of heavenly light and cosmic potency that is glorious and mighty to behold (if you have that ability of course). Hold on champ! We've got a problem - dualism is a fundamentally limiting perspective. Instead of understanding and knowing the infinite complexity of existence, we're stuck with only two forces to make sense of our experience. 

"But that sounds just like Yin and Yang," you say! "Aren't you a Chinese Medicine practitioner? A student of Dao? How can you dismiss this idea?"

The thing is, you're almost right. It is almost Yin Yang Theory. Except that Yin and Yang are just parts of a complex system that is not based on two things. It's based on one thing: Dao. Which emanates to two things: Yin and Yang. Which begat the three things: Heaven, Human, Earth. Which birthed the four seasons and the five elements and then the ten thousand things (i.e. everything else). Yin and Yang are part of a larger constellation that is not about substance but about movement -- about change. In fact, Yin and Yang are concepts that reflect the way that things change, not what they are but how they move from one state of being to another. It is a constant question of interplay and dynamic transformation. To be one thing is to stagnate and ultimately to descend into permanent suffering.  

Assuming that you can manipulate the energy of something demands that the energy of whatever you are manipulating is a component part of a mechanized whole, that it is like gas in a car or circuits in a computer. Standard biomedicine doctors are trying to fix the parts of the substance (the things they can observe and measure), and contemporary energy workers want to work with the ethereal (the things they can sense and feel). Each group is really doing the same thing -- being a mechanic who is repairing the part of the structure or spirit that is broken. But what if you are not actually made of substance or spirit? What if you're not really made at all in the way that most of us think of it. You're not a peanut butter sandwich and you're not a multi-phasic dimensional ghost. Stop assuming you can repair anything and/or stop assuming you have magic powers. I wanted to be McGyver and I wanted to be Hermione too but that ship has sailed. You can help bodies remember how to be whole and functional, but it's not because you shot invisible light and good vibes out of your forehead and fingertips, or because you replaced 1000 knees in surgery. 

Now let me be clear....
You can't help bodies return to physiology and dynamic health with  magic, nor can you do it with biological science. This is not a rational science apologia. The acupuncture needles aren't stimulating cytokine/immunoglobulin/heat protein cascades through your lymph/immune/cardiac/myofascial systems either. Well they might be doing those things if we could actually measure them (which we can't seem to... but one day amiright?), but that's not why it works. At least, that's not why it works within the framework of the system that created that tool. Chinese Medicine is not dependent on lab tests and petri dishes, nor is it dependent on belief or electric energetic forces. It is reliant on the observation of dynamic movements in nature, the earnest effort to understand those movements, and to apply the concepts that those changes represent to the human condition. Because as it turns out, we aren't actually separate from anything around us.  We don't have dominion over all the other things on the planet. The idea that we are superior or wholly unique from everything else is part of that morality stuff I mentioned earlier. Gosh we have so much to talk about.

And I guess this explanation still isn't very clear. 

How about a comparative example?

Setting: Ancient times - when people were superstitious and dumb

There are definitely bad things that live here. Maybe even a ROUS...

There are definitely bad things that live here. Maybe even a ROUS...

So here you are walking along through the woods when suddenly you realize you have strayed into the forbidden swamps of the ancestors. Here is a no-pass land, long slapped with a metaphorical verboden sign because it is well known that the spirits that live in this place cause illness and death to those that enter. Though if you are strong and young and still possessed of the good stock given to you by your own ancestors, it is possible to survive a walk through these bogs, but nonetheless, a travel pass is not recommended. Yet here you are. Suddenly bitten by a swarm of gnats and assaulted by foul-smelling air, you bolt from your position across the swamps and back home where within a day you start to feel ill.

Chills and fever take hold of you and the local healer declares that you have been possessed of a foul force from the swamps. It has broken through your charms and defenses and that you will need the smoke of healing herbs and the poultices made of tree barks to cure you.  It's hard to know which spirits are the ones that are attacking you and without that info, the healing approach is in broad strokes. But you are young and from good people so hopefully the protection offered to you from your own family spirits will be strong enough to survive. You'll make it. A little worse for wear but you make it.  

Setting: Contemporary Times - when people know what's real and aren't bound by ridiculous assumptions

It's just a casual walk in the woods. Good for you, right?

It's just a casual walk in the woods. Good for you, right?

So you're hiking in Mt. Hood National forest when you realize that it's colder out here on the trail than you had imagined and you don't have a nice North Face fleece to cover up with. It's cool you think, punning to yourself quietly, and you carry on with your hike. You've been assaulted by a few No-See-Ums while walking along but you brought your handy bug spray so you're pretty comfortable. By the time you get back to your car though you've got a little sniffle and you hope it doesn't get worse.

The next morning you are sick. Sneezing, hacking, your through feels full of razor blades and you know you need to see the doctor. They tell you that you have a bacterial infection in your throat and lungs. These pathogens probably entered through your mouth and nose and set up shop while your immune system was depressed by the cold. These bugs are causing your symptoms, but they're not sure which one's they are. So take these antibiotics to see if it'll get rid of them and if not, you're young and strong with good genes. You'll be ok. A little uncomfortable but Ok.

Comparison: They are the same thing.

Both of these scenarios describe a similarly observable process. They both are looking at a sick person and trying to understand how that person went from being healthy to being sick. Each of them relying on a set of knowledge and a system of analysis to determine the answer to the question. Now I don't mean that one is real and one is a metaphor for something real. I mean that these stories are just using particular vocabulary to describe the same thing. Healthy becomes sick. Microbes and spirits? The same thing. Whoa snap! I know. I sound like a crazy person to both camps but seriously just sit with it a minute. Have you ever seen a microbe yourself? Have you ever seen an ancestor spirit yourself? Have you been to Havanah before? Yeah like in Cuba? But all or some of these things are real? How do you know? What is it to be real? Whew ok, lets take a step back from the post-modern, relativistic anarchy and just breathe.


and out

Just breathe a second, and feel the air. 

I am not trying to collapse the world down on itself to say that all the things are just one thing, in fact that they are not even "things" as such, and that how you view the world, no matter which frame of reference you are using is not more or less real than any other. That, in fact, there is no sense of real because nothing is fixed, and everything that we truly understand or try to understand is a moving target. Wait, actually that is what I am doing. 

The parameters of our language create boundaries around our experience by the nature of description. Can we understand things without words for them? Can we see that energy and body are not separate nor are they joined? They are the same thing moving in different spheres and observed in different frameworks. By observing a phenomenon we are intrinsically changing it (concept credit to a white guy from a while back who probably didn't actually think of it but got credit for it anyway).

Chinese Medicine isn't Energy Medicine because that is a limited and erroneous description. People don't get better because my acupuncture needles manipulated their energy flow or because your invisibly glowing hands moved their cancer out of the way or because your good vibes made The Secret come to life. It's because when we work in a sphere that is speciously described as an energy space, we are softening the edges of our own "realness" and experiencing ever so briefly the interconnected fabric of Dao. Our pattern of health and wellness is laid over the pattern of disease and disorder when those boundaries are loosened, and they interact. I don't do anything accept make the space; open my mind to the very difficult idea that what we are all experiencing is only an infinitely small fraction of what is moving in, around, and through us. The actual healing that happens is the flow and movement of existence on a macro scale. You can cut out a tumor or lay in downward-facing-dog or chant or take pills or smoke drugs to solve your ails, but none of those things is the treatment really. They are tools to accessing the pattern of things. Not a magical pattern to be stored in some grimoire or a rational pattern to be tracked by electron microscopes -- just the pattern that even gives us the framework to read grimoires and see microscopes. 

A little jazz hands or maybe spirit fingers or maybe it's just waving. But the demons are waving at YOU!!

A little jazz hands or maybe spirit fingers or maybe it's just waving. But the demons are waving at YOU!!

So about Satan and the forest:

If the world is dominated by two forces: body and spirit, up and down, hot and cold -- then one of the core anchors of a dualistic world view is that Good and Evil also stand in opposition to each other. God and Satan. Even if you're a polytheist or a nature worshiper, what is the fundamental relationship at play in your pantheon? My guess is probably Good and Evil. Or if you're a super modern person maybe it's Good and Apathy. Even still, this idea of good and evil is reflected in our love of spirit and energy and our derision of animal and substantive. Our society looks at our physical selves as machines in the process of decline and popular nutrition and baseless science is constantly trying to purge your body of all the toxins it has absorbed or created, all in an effort to restore your pristine, "natural" self. Your clean soul, free from the dark influences of indulgence and a lack of self-control. Take your vitamins even if you don't feel like they do anything for you because it's important to build up health brownie points for the time in the future when your skinbag starts to fray.

Satan has long been depicted as waiting in the dark forests of the Americas. Living and working through people of color and natives, warping their minds and filling them with notions of unmarried sex, demonic chanting, and the reverence for the very natural world that has been infused with disease. That same fear has been at the heart of Western empirical thought even as the very people who started the Enlightenment worked to release themselves from the shackles of what they saw as an oppressive religion. And yet, the idea of your body as flawed and impure has persisted, even among people spending time at Free Love Ashrams.

But wait, you're a free-thinking atheist (sometimes agnostic) who has spend years working and studying the Eastern Ways and you know that the world is in fact filled with poisons and horrors that must be purged.

Sure. Ok. But if you are taking a collection of plants and supplements that have words attached to them like: natural purgative, anti-inflammatory, emetic, demulscent, restorative, curative, immuno-supportive; and you are consuming these products with the aim to "purge toxins," to "cleanse the liver," or to "expel  heavy metals," then you should know ahead of time which toxins and metals you are targeting and then you should have some way of measuring whether or not those things are actually happening. You are living and working in the world of biomedical, reductionist science (even if the treatment is called natural and chemical free) because you and your practitioner are thinking about your body in this substantive way -- that you are biological machine who needs its oil changed because ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS/MOLD/FUNGUS/GLUTEN/NIGHTSHADES. But fear that these toxin monsters are lying in wait with henchman from Big Pharma and Monsanto who are all waiting to destroy you is just the Devil in a new form. It is the Puritans exacting control from 500 years in the past. Western culture has not shaken the influence of Abraham, and American culture in particular has made a new religion of fitness and health among some of the least healthy and high-strung people on the planet.  

And look, I feel that tension myself every day. We are all of us in the US entwined with our past and our history. We have not left it. We have not evolved beyond it. It is our ancestry -- in Chinese Medicine terms, it is our cultural Jing. And we can't start being vegetarians until our great great great auntie has had her fill of steak. 

So how how about those action items?

The only way out of the mind bend is to work to internalize every day that how we have been trained to know and understand the world is not objective. Science with an capital S is not without a point of view -- not without assumptions in the same way that our tribal or religious ancestors made assumptions about reality. The fact that you saw a video on Facebook of a virus attacking cells and injecting its DNA into those cells to reproduce is not itself evidence of an incontrovertible truth about existence. The real truth is that almost no one has seen with their own eyes what that video showed you. It was made in a computer, an example of what we believe is happening based on our observations of lots of other factors. When your doctor tests your blood for infections, they don't look at your blood in a microscope and see all those badboy microbes puttin' a beat down on your cells. It's more complicated than that and much less exact. Certainty is an armor against the scary truth that profound humans have been spouting on about for millennia: The world is largely unknowable in any concrete way and sitting with the certainty that things are the way they seem to be, is the root of inquisitions. The only certainty is that there is no certainty (concept credit to Neo or did Confuscious say? Look for a meme. I'm sure it'll be a wrong attribution).

Chinese Medicine is NOT energy medicine because there is no energy and there is no medicine. And of course both energy and medicine do also exist. Sort of. The answer is Yes and it is No. Because the answer is not what is important. It's the space between the answers and the transition from one answer to the next which gives us the only real insight into what is.

Now jump on into the comments pool. It's pretty warm this time of year...

Summer and the Command of Yang Qi

Travis Kern, L.Ac.

The Summer season is full of classic images and experiences like beach lounging, hiking and swimming, backyard barbecues, and outdoor fun. It's a season of adventure and exploration, energized by the warmth in the air and by the extra long days that make us forget how late the hour might actually be. Summer is the fruition of a promise made in earliest days of Spring when the long dormant seeds and hibernating animals just began to stir. The ground was still cold, and in some places covered in snow, when the movement of the seasons first whispered the words that reanimated the sleeping Yang. 

Understanding Yin and Yang

Imagine a burning oil lamp. The oil is dominated by Yin. It is substantive, slow moving, tangible. The fire burning on the lamp is dominated by Yang. It is hot, moving, and bright. The place where the fire touches the oil, where the oil transforms into the flame, is the point where we can witness the transformation of yin into yang. This relationship is infinitely divisible such that we can find Yin in things that are Yang like fire and we can find aspects of Yang in things that are Yin like oil. 

Yin and Yang are two forces at play in the entirety of existence. They are words that represent different aspects of substance and activity. Yin and Yang are mutually dependent, mutually consuming, and constantly changing into one another. They are not static qualities but instead are dynamic descriptors that work at the most macro and micro levels. They are not religious terms or even ideas that represent a specific belief system. They were imagined and codified by ancient people trying to understand the world around them, and they have stood the self-critical test of time. 

Summer is the time for doing, for achieving the things you thought about and imagined over the Winter and those same things that you started to make happen in the Spring. Now is the time to bring your ideas into reality and set yourself up for the leaner and colder times of the coming Winter season. 

For now though, enjoy the weather and your outside times! Get grilling. Harvest some backyard veggies or visit your local farmers market. In the summer season you can enjoy your favorite cold treats and indulge in the fruits of the season like Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Eggplants, and Zucchini. Get up earlier and stay up later. This is the time in the year when you can really flex your boundaries and explore the complexity of living. 

caprese salad.jpg


As always, foods in season and grown locally are you best friends.

beach - VW van.jpg


Get Outside and Get Moving. Summer is the time of activity.

Things to Eat:

Berries of every kind
Tomatoes and Peppers
Snap peas and Green Beans
Eggplant, Zucchini, and Summer Squash
Fresh Cheeses like Mozzarella and Chevre
Bright herbs like Basil, Mint, and Cilantro
Fish and Seafood

Things to Do:

Eat lighter meals
Build that playhouse
Sit on the back porch
Enjoy a glass of rose
Get up earlier than you usually do
Enjoy the sunsets, even when they're late
Spend time near moving rivers and streams

Things to Cook:

Grilled Beet, Quinoa, and Feta Salad

quinoa salad.PNG


2 large red beets*
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2-3 handfuls loose leaf lettuce (like Arugula, Red Leaf Lettuce, Curly Endive)
1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
¼ cup roasted almonds, whole or sliced
1 ounce feta

2 whole scallions, minced
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar***
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 slices sourdough bread
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic

1. Light Grill to medium-low heat.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Scrub beets well and slice off the top and bottom then remove any wispy parts of the
beet. Drop into the boiling water and cook for 12-15 minutes, just until the beet starts to be tender. Drain and rinse with
cold water. Let sit until cool enough to handle.
3. Take the parboiled beet and slice into ¼" slices. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon
pepper. Place beet slices on the grill and cook until charred on both sides, 6-8 minutes per side (depending on heat.)
Remove and quarter each slice.
4. Combine lettuce, quinoa, almonds, and feta in a large bowl. Add cooked beets and toss to combine.
5. In a small food processor or blender, combine scallions, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Run until dressing has
6. Dress salad if desired or serve dressing on the side.
7. In addition to the salad, to make the garlic toast, brush sliced bread with olive oil. Cut the end off the garlic clove and
rub on the bread. Grill along side the beets but only for 30-60 seconds on each side (if grill is hot.) Serve salad with
slices of toast or cut into cubes and use as croutons.

*Beets are one vegetable that if it looks healthy, I won't peel. However, if you want to peel the beets. Let cool after parboiling
and peeling before cutting into slices.

**This makes a little extra dressing but I find the blender/food processor handles it a bit better. Store extra dressing in an
airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

***I love the light, refreshing taste champagne vinegar adds to vinaigrette, however, if you can't find it, apple cider or white
balsamic works as well.

Recipe by Naturally Ella at http://naturallyella.com/2014/05/20/grilled-beet-quinoa-and-feta-salad/

The Power & Poise of Chinese Herbal Medicine

Travis Cunningham L.Ac.

12 herbs.jpg

    Where I live in Portland, Oregon, many people share an interest in natural medicine. There are two Chinese medicine schools in town, a Chiropractic school, a Massage school, the oldest Naturopathic school in the country, and a medical school which specializes in Integrative Medicine. With such an abundance of natural medicine to choose from, why would someone pick a medicine that does not draw its roots from local soil? Wouldn’t it be better to choose medicine that is grown, stored and processed here? Why should people give Chinese herbal medicine a shot?

    All of these questions are valid. And as a Chinese medicine practitioner, I have been asked them many times. The answer lies within the uniqueness of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment that Chinese herbal medicine can offer. This begins with the medicine’s focus on relationship.

Understanding the Relationship

The focus of a Chinese medical assessment is not based on the physics of what is happening in your body. This assessment is actually more concerned with understanding the relationship between your component parts (e.g. your organs, tissues, or bones). Our understanding is expressed using a kind of symbolic language. These symbols are taken from activities and movements that ancient people observed within nature and then observed that those natural processes had an apparent likeness to activities within the human body.

Knowing the History

The Chinese Medicine understanding of combining herbal remedies is backed up by thousands of years of writing and experimentation. The older writings that exist on the various topics of herbal medicine also have hundreds of years of commentary and discussion by physicians of past and present. In a very real sense,  Chinese herbal medicine has close to two thousand years of peer review. This fact alone may suffice to make it worthy of consideration for modern people.

Defining the Symbol

Natural experiences like heat, cold, dampness, dryness, and wind, are described as they appear in a person’s body presentation. Shaking, for example, with its sudden appearance and disappearance, tremor and vibration are caused by wind. The ancients observed the air suddenly moving and gusting, shaking the leaves of the trees and blowing debris along the ground, and they carried this experience to their understanding of human physiology.

Symbols such as Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, were also chosen to emphasize patterns of functional movement within the body. The Lungs and the Large Intestine both descend and consolidate, as is the movement of Metal in nature. The Lungs breathe in air (descent), and consolidate the essence of air into nourishment for the body. The Large Intestine descends the stool and consolidates moisture for optimal elimination. Every major organ is looked at by a similar likeness with a corresponding movement in nature.

The ancient Chinese found that when these movement patterns were happening harmoniously and in just the right amount, a person was happy and healthy. While, a disharmony or mismanagement of these movement patterns led to disease. When these nature-based symbols are used together in an evaluation, a Chinese medicine practitioner can form a type of diagnosis called a pattern. A pattern reflects the relationship of harmony and disharmony within a person’s body.

acpuncture model.jpg

Finding the Pattern

All Chinese medical treatment, whether acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, gua sha, or herbal medicine is done to address a person’s pattern. This is different than targeting the person’s disease (as is done in biomedicine). If we seek the destruction of an illness we require a force to eliminate it. If, however, we seek to restore a pattern of functional movement, all that we require is a guide. This guide can be less forceful, but it must be precise. The cultivation of precision is the skillset of the Chinese medical practitioner. This skillset is practiced through a careful differentiation of the pattern. 

Lets look at an example:
Two people catch a cold. Person A, has chills and fever, a slightly irritated sore throat, a headache on the sides of their head, and itchiness in the ears. Person B, has chills and fever, an intensely swollen and painful throat, and is sweating profusely.

Biomedically, these people may have the same virus attacking their systems. But in Chinese medicine, what is important is the pattern that such an illness presents within the individual. And in the example above, the pattern is different.

In person B, the intensely swollen, painful throat and profuse sweating indicate a heat pattern. In person A, the sore throat is less severe. The itchiness in the ears and location of the headache indicate that the illness has reached a different pathway (the Gallbladder or Shao Yang layer). The Chinese medical treatment will be different for each case, as it will tailor to the individual’s pattern.

As you can see, the pattern not only tells us about the disease, but also the relationship between the disease and the person’s constitution. This relationship is given a symbolic name with the terms discussed above (Example pattern: wind-heat invading the exterior). Treatment is given to principally address this relationship, and help assist the person restore their health (Example treatment principles: clear heat, vent wind, secure the exterior).

Choosing the Formula

To execute the above principles in the form of a treatment, a formula is chosen. A formula is a set of procedures that follow the direction of a treatment principle. In acupuncture, a formula is a list or set of acupuncture points, and the needling techniques of each point. In Chinese herbal medicine, a formula is a set of herbs given at a particular dosage and frequency of administration.

Chinese herbal medicine studies not only the effects of an individual herb, but pays particular attention to how that effect changes when herb A is combined with herb B. Herbs in combination can emphasize certain functional principles, or unlock new actions entirely.

The hot herb Fu Zi (Aconite) can be used to treat invasive cold patterns like neuropathy of the limb, by warming and dispersing the cold influence. But Fu Zi can only become a tonic for the heart, when it is combined with other sweet herbs like Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger) and Zhi Gan Cao (Prepared Licorice Root). In this case, Gan Jiang and Zhi Gan Cao also act to nullify the toxicity and harshness of Fu Zi, making the decoction or tea, safe to drink. While if you were to take Fu Zi by itself, the remedy might actually be dangerous.

acupressure - massage.jpg


Treating the Person

The strength of using Chinese medicine ultimately stems from the medicine's focus on treating the person. The perspective that Chinese medicine comes from is a view that believes in health as a natural phenomena. Health doesn't need to be forced, it can simply be encouraged. And with the right encouragement, a natural state of health and happiness can resume. Ease is, after all, easier than disease

How Tea Healed Me

Travis Cunningham L.Ac.


When people ask me, “Travis, why are you so into tea?” My answer inevitably points to my experience that tea is Medicine.

“You mean like, it’s good for your digestion?” they ask.

“Well, yes… but that's not quite the extent of it,” I say. It is at this point that words usually fall away from me. How could I possibly communicate just what tea has meant to me? What simple and precise words would paint a picture worthy of my own intimate experience? The truth is, that tea has changed my life. A story might be as close as we come to delivering our experience to another person. And so, If I know that person well enough, I usually tell them the following one:

The second time I drank tea with my teacher was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.

As I climbed up the steps to the mystical tea room, I was a mix of turbulent emotion. My heart had just been broken by a woman with whom I was in love. The sting of those final moments of her memory haunted me. She was everywhere I went and would be nowhere, ever again.

As I passed through the doorway, my teacher greeted me with a smile. “It's good to see you again my friend,” said he.

“It's good to see you as well,” said I. My smile was an act of protection while I shook his hand in greeting.

“How are you?” He asked.

“I'm doing alright,” I replied, showing nothing to the tea master. “How are you?”

He looked at me for a moment and then smiled. “Not too well, actually,” he said, almost humorously. “It's been one hell of week.”

“Yeah,” I said, now smiling back. “It has.”

He leaned forward slightly as if speaking to a child. “But I think,” he said, “things are going to get better very soon.”

At that moment, the second and third guest walked through the door and the night began.

As the first, second, and then third tea were served, I relaxed into the glowing atmosphere of support. I was upheld by the people at the table, the tea plants, and the master himself. He was flawless. Telepathy was an understatement. Every time I had something to say, he knew. He would stop his “orchestra” of service, and ask for my thoughts.

The teas pulsed within me. Currents of magnetic and electric force seemed to rearrange my twisted heart. They took me into a place that was foreign to my recent experience -- a place of quiet and a place of peace.

Was this the tea? Or, was it the master? Was it the room, or its people? It was impossible to say. All I knew was that it felt good to be me again.

As my awareness came back to the room, the master pulled out a container from one of his back shelves. “This is something that I never serve,” he said. “But for whatever reason, it's calling out tonight.”


As he placed the precious tea into a bamboo cup, my eyes lit up at their site.

“These are flowers,” he explained, “from very old trees. We're going to drink this tea and see what they have to tell us.”

The flowers were pink and golden. They were the tiniest of things, and they seemed incredibly delicate. I had never seen such flowers in my life, nor have I seen them since.

As he poured the water into the flower-filled pot, my mood shifted. I became aware of my recent experiences and the darkness that characterized them. I could feel my emotions clearly, but somehow was not a part of them. They were objective; detached from me, but still present. They were like the smoke from an incense stick.

The master poured the tea into my cup. It smelled sweet and floral, like plums and orchids. I sipped it and savored the flavor - so sweet! So kind!

My eyes closed and I went inward. And then, I saw...a field!

My vision was as clear as the room I was in moments ago. It was a field filled with plants, valleys and hills. Most prominently, it was raining. It rained and it rained. All of my dread became clouds, and my sadness, the raindrops. There was no sunlight, and no flowers. How could there be?

“When will it stop?” I asked. “Will it ever stop?” But it went on and on.

It was then that I saw something. I saw the flower of one little plant. Except, the flower wasn't there yet. It was as if I were looking at the spirit of the flower to be.

The spirit of the flower was in the stem of the plant. And the closer I looked, the more I saw. The rain fell to the ground and into it's cracks. It found the roots of the plant and quenched their thirst. As the rainwater was absorbed, the spirit of the flower rose.

Suddenly, I became excited. The rain wasn't blocking the sunlight, it was helping that light turn into flowers! With every drop, the spirit of the flower rose. And though the flower came into sight only when the sun shone, it was nurtured in every moment by the rain. The flower was as much rain as it was sun!

It hit me then, that my dreaded and painful experiences were just like the rain. They were helping me make flowers.

I opened my eyes and tears fell down my cheeks. I smiled and wiped my face, concealing my private journey.

The tea master closed with a final tea. It was grounded and full. Soon after, we all said “thank you,” and went our separate ways. Though I did not share my experience with anyone that night, I am forever grateful to those that were there. Several of them would eventually become my close friends.


For me, tea is a medicine of the spirit. It is a friend which has stood by me long enough for me to give myself a second chance. I think any friend that can do this is one worth keeping around.

I work with tea because it has become a part of me. Every time I pour it, I am saying thank you - for all that tea has given me. It has given me relationships, teachers, friends, fun, and the ability to look at myself.

Demolition Days: The Metal of Something New

The remains of the walls after Day 1

The remains of the walls after Day 1

As a modern American practitioner of Chinese medicine, I have often wondered just how relevant an ancient perspective can be in contemporary life. How much of the symbolism and language that we call “Classical,” can touch and feel our present situation? Is Chinese medicine, its cosmology and approach, able to grasp who we are and what we do? Or is it merely a relic to who we have been?

“Loud noises!” shouts my friend and business partner, Travis Kern, as he turns on a saw, that buzzes like a ferocious bumble-bee orchestra. I watch, as it cuts a line through the Sheetrock of the wall in front of us. There’s nothing quite like sharp metal going to work.

Our newly acquired clinic space is being rearranged. We are doing the “build-out” ourselves. And the first stage in the process? Demolition. The unnecessary walls have to come down before the new walls can go up.

Several hours before, I am standing in my back yard in a very uncomfortable pose. My neigong teacher and friend Brandon, calls it Wuji stance. Though you wouldn’t know I am uncomfortable by looking at the “slight smile” on my face, you might be able to tell if you looked close enough to see my entire body “slightly” shaking.  

Wuji is one of the first practices taught in traditional neigong. It is considered a basic practice, because it builds a kind of essential conductivity in the tissues of the body. Unfortunately, in order for this conductivity to be built, the body has to become song.

Song is a term in Chinese associated with the idea of relax or release. Brandon says that it is not just a quality of relaxation within the muscles, but a stretching of the tendons and fascia: “Like steel wrapped in wool.” If a person is able to become song, they can more easily conduct qi. Once qi can be conducted, then it can start to be worked with and used for other purposes.

In order to become song, the person has to learn to “sink the qi” downward. Downward, is always the first direction when learning neigong or tai chi. “Sinking,” is associated with the Metal element in Chinese medicine. And it always seems to be the most difficult.

Why is sinking so difficult? I’m not sure… maybe it’s because the modern body is conditioned by chairs and unnatural movement patterns to favor above and not below; maybe it’s because the modern mind is conditioned to exist only from the neck up; maybe it’s because modern culture worships expansion and growth and shuns contemplation, receptivity, and allowing. Why is sinking so difficult? I’m not sure. But trying to sink the qi sucks! It sucks big time.

In neigong, sinking the qi must be done first. If sinking isn’t done first, then too much qi can “rise” to the head, and cause problems such as insomnia, anxiety, and even mania or delusion (if extreme). This is because the goal in neigong isn’t simply to go up to the head, it is to go into (and become) the whole.

Becoming song, and thus “sinking the qi,” requires a person to give up all of the unnecessary tension that they are used to holding, in order to rest upon the basic structure of the body. Our points of tension are difficult to let go of, because they are what we have been using to “hold us up” for a long time. It makes sense then, that we have to let go of the things that hold us up, in order to sink and go down.

As I watch Travis’ metal saw cut through dusty Sheetrock, I am reminded that Sheetrock is made from gypsum or, in Chinese, Shi Gao. Shi Gao is used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat the Lung (which happens to be associated with the Metal element), when certain patterns of pathology “attack” the lung in form of a cold or flu.

Seeing that metal saw cut into the metal wall after trying to “sink my qi” (the direction of metal) all of that morning, provided me with a direct example of how the symbolic language of Chinese medicine is still relevant today.

There is something, perhaps innate, about beginning, that requires Metal. In the case of the clinic, Metal is taking down unnecessary walls and clearing the space of what was. In the case of neigong training, it is releasing the unnecessary tension and holding patterns of the body so that the tissues become more able to conduct qi. In both cases, we start with Metal.

As Travis and I sat back and enjoyed a not-quite-cold-enough but still enjoyable beer, we reflected upon the accomplishments of the day. Our work was shown back to us by the newly minted openness in our store, and in that moment, we drifted into feelings of serenity. As it turns out, “sinking the qi” is not always so difficult.