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Chinese Medicine Theory

5 Reasons I Know Acupuncture Works

By | Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine Theory, Evidence-Based Medicine, Evolve Health + Wellness, Integrative Medicine, Mind-Body Medicine, Science | No Comments

Since becoming an acupuncturist I’ve heard people allege, arguably via selective auditory attention, that acupuncture’s efficacy may be placebo, implying of course that I may be a fool, whether they realize said implication or not. If they do then this makes them quite rude – whereas if they don’t… well, who’s the fool now?

Most of these people have never received acupuncture and even more of them know nothing about it, but the skeptical mind demands tangible evidence… except of course those who condone anti-depressants in spite of it being impossible to prove serotonin or dopamine deficiencies, or those who subscribe to any of the theories of modern psychology, which obviously cannot be proven with hard evidence. This makes me skeptical of skeptics: Is it really evidence they demand or just general acceptance by the modern masses (which is sort of the opposite of skepticism)?

I digress.

I wonder what would the motive have been for the ancient Chinese to concoct this “sham medicine” 2000+ years ago to dupe all the “new agey” people into thinking they were getting better. I mean, of course they could have stood to make a lot of money… if money or “new agey people” had even existed back then.

This is one of the major errors in cliche skepticism, that of copying and pasting modern motives onto climates where such intentions would have been obsolete. Ancient acupuncturists were not trying to expand their businesses with locations in all the major cities and a strong online presence to gain thousands of followers and really brand themselves, but merely helping their friend through a potentially fatal contraction of parasites. And she wasn’t some yoga student who drank kale smoothies and had her intentions for the new moon posted on her bedroom wall (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but just some poor woman in need. Acupuncturists were “doctors,” for all intents and purposes. They dedicated their lives to the study and practice of a paradigm that contemporary cynics hypothesize as hocus pocus, thus again implying they were either charlatans or fools, sipping the Kool-Aid no differently than mindless cult followers. Curious. Before passing such mindless judgment I’d recommend at least reading their texts, which begs the question, why write so much content on a farce? Why spend the hundreds of hours it surely took to document findings into the countlessly trite notes written about it? For money? I could go to Staples right now, print all the notes on my computer, beautifully bind and laminate, call it a book, sell it myself, and in the next year make more money than Zhang Zhongjing ever did off the classic, Shang Han Lun.

 Since that pretty much rules out financial motive, what was it? Power? Sex? Were the chicks just chucking themselves at old healers with long beards who wrote dense medical texts? Or was it a huge hidden camera joke he was playing on the entire nation, in spite of there being no cameras or TV’s, or even jokes probably? Chinese Medicine is older than jokes.

“Does that stuff really work?” idiots ask me. All. The. Time.

No. I spent four years and six figures basically studying Scientology. Congratulations. You’ve surely just met the stupidest person you’ve ever met in your life.

 How do I know acupuncture works?

  1. Let’s begin with irony: I know it works because of all the times it doesn’t work. Acupuncture is a difficult practice that includes several procedural steps, along which even the subtlest mistake can be the difference between an effective or ineffective treatment. Since we diagnose in terms of patterns as opposed to disease labels we first have to deduce the patient’s pattern. Then there are infinite options for point selection within each pattern. Finally is the manual technique of properly locating, needling and stimulating each point. Personally I’ve received treatments that did exactly what I wanted and others that did nothing. I suppose skeptics’ explanation for these latter instances would be that my faith wasn’t strong on those days, an apparent epidemic with acupuncture patients across the globe, along with those of short-term faith that varies in duration. Fascinating!
  2. I have many patients whose particular diets and/or lifestyle choices are largely culpable for the perpetuation of their patterns. Such cases are frustrating for any healer, west or east. But it is interesting how on certain weeks the alleged placebo effect was able to carry them free of pain for 5-6 days, while on others only 2-3 days, and on some others the placebo effect didn’t even kick in until the second or third day after treatment. Wild!
  3. Acupuncture is just one modality of what most of us practice, which is “TCM,” Traditional Chinese Medicine. This includes cupping and moxibustion, nutritional guidance and herbs. It should be noted that one of the key ingredients in many of our herbal formulas used to warm the body and/or digestive system is ginger. So while the FDA fails to recognize Chinese herbs, most of society and many doctors already have, most sans awareness. Chinese herbs are a part of the exact same paradigm as acupuncture, which means if you believe ginger can help some people with digestion you believe in acupuncture, whether you know so or not.
  4. It seems unlikely to me that the allegers of placebo effect would also be believers in things like the “law of attraction,” power of positive thought, or books like The Secret, but if you think about it these follow the same principle. g. If we have the power to cure our own headache by taking a false pill then we must just have the power to cure our own headache, which means we have the power to cure much graver conditions, which makes us pretty much all potential shamans, and any form of medicine relatively useless, which is the most “new agey” thing I can conceive of. To suggest otherwise would only highlight the hypocrisy in skepticism.
  5. Acupuncture is most accepted by the people of New York, Massachusetts, the Pacific Northwest and California. You know… just like all smart things.

It’s nice when adults agree to disagree beneath the premise: Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s adorable in its hollowness and diplomacy, but deep down we all know being wrong is significant. We have an opinion about someone who opposes gay marriage or racial equality, just as they do about us, just as I have an opinion about people who think Tupac was better than Biggie. If our skeptics are correct, that acupuncture’s benefits are wholly contingent upon placebo effect it says something about either the integrity or intelligence of all acupuncturists. By the same token, if they are wrong it must say something about them.

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By | Anatomy, Chinese Medicine Theory, Chiropractic, Evolve Health + Wellness, evolve-health-wellness, Martial Arts, Mind-Body Medicine, Orthopedics, Pain Management, Pediatrics, Post-Graduate Education, Tui Na, Zheng Gu | No Comments

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The Alignment of Yoga with Chinese Medicine

By | Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine Theory, Evolve Health + Wellness, evolve-health-wellness, Exercise and Fitness, Meditation, Science, Yoga | No Comments

In downward dog – the default “reset” yoga pose – we press “kidney 1,” the wood point on acupuncture’s water channel, and “heart 8,” the fire point on its fire channel – into the earth, concurrently using the former to tuck our heart into our lap and the latter to push our kidneys into the air. What does all this mean?

Well, first of all it means there is a relationship between yoga and the acupuncture meridians.

I’ve been training yoga (off and on) for nine years, just a year longer than I’ve been studying Chinese Medicine, and my fascination with each have been mutually engendering.

Chinese Medicine is complex – a paradigm one could spend lifetimes studying and still not fully understand – however can also be broken down into the fundamental principles of yin and yang and the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, which align with our vital organs, the liver, heart, stomach, lungs and kidneys.

Every one of us is imbalanced, subjectively lacking in either yin or yang, if not bearing a pathological excess of one (which is the same as a void of the other). How our imbalance decides to express itself (i.e. symptoms) is generally determined by our “five element constitution,” which is not at all mutually exclusive to western science labeling a condition as “genetic.”

Where western science does mis-step, in my opinion, is in its uniform prescription of certain things as good and healthy and others as bad or unhealthy. We’ve all met people who can eat a whole steak and feel fantastic, while others can barely eat half without needing to take a nap afterwards and then feeling it the next day. The latter might be “Earth types” – weaker in the stomach channel, which becomes the one that gets most impacted by their daily stress. They lose their appetite, while other element types couldn’t conceive of such an experience. Conversely, “Earth types” can often drink as much coffee as they please and still get a good night’s sleep, whereas Wood or Fire types (yours truly) can’t even have a small cup in the morning more than a few days in a row without experiencing some insomnia. I love/hate coffee!

Our society generally considers yoga to be a very “yin” practice, a la Qi Gong or Tai Chi, whereas more yang forms of exercise are crossfit, boxing or the more aggressive martial arts. But inside every “yin thing” is a dash of yang – that white dot in the black half of the swirly half circle – to ensure integrity. Even sex, the epitome of yang activity, can be awfully unfulfilling when void of the yin element of affection.

Yoga is no different. Yes, at its best it should be an eloquent dance of breath and fluid contortions that logically favor the female physique, but it is also a source of perspiration, a great test of strength, determination and what degree of discomfort we are able to endure without compromising our inspiration. In short, yoga is gangster. If you’ve never done it I challenge you to do so and disagree.

I’ve made several observations connecting my practice on the mat with that of my practice on the table, and would like to share just a few.

Acupuncture meridians run in two pairs each. They are responsibly polygamous, as the body is interconnected, just as we are interconnected, which might be a fine argument for romantic polygamy. I digress.

In its depth the lung channel pairs with that of the stomach, which is logical as these organs are our post-natal sources of life. Elementally, the (yin) lung and (yang) large intestine make up “Metal.” In Warrior 2 pose we stare out over our longest fingers, the end of the large intestine channel, which runs directly opposite the lung channel on the forearm. Our front knee is planted firmly above our feet, creating a perfectly straight view of the stomach channel. We prepare for reverse warrior by inhaling these metal meridians over from yin side to yang, then tipping back into our pose. How perfect.

All of the five elements have their own particular features and actions, metal’s being that of sharply cutting through, just as the breath does our body’s stagnant energy. For this reason my favorite continuation is into the sharp, triangle pose, my breath allowing me to cut through the air around me, also the stagnation within me, and for me personally the end of my large intestine channel usually grazes the start of my stomach channel on the dorsum of my foot.

Finally, there is a very intimate relationship in Five Elements between the heart and kidneys, fire and water elements respectively. The heart’s fire is invigorated by the kidney’s yang energy and (hopefully) cooled by its yin water (although this dynamic is one of the most common imbalances in modern New York City). I like to keep in mind the intention of nourishing this relationship whenever I go through vinyasa.

In downward dog the only two acupuncture points touching the floor are the most grounding points on each channel (incidentally also the most sensitive to needle).

Heart 8 rests in the middle of the palm. Considered the fire point on the fire channel, and it pushes our kidneys upwards towards the ceiling in a very outward, yang expression. Conversely, Kidney 1 rests in the middle of the feet – the wood point on the water channel, and its job is to push down, encouraging the heart to tuck further under the body with the yin intention of enclosure, self-preservation.

We move forward into plank and chaturanga, then finally upward dog. Again, we use heart 8, but this time to push the chest forward, our heart yang now exploding upward and out in self-expression, our kidneys beneath our lower back withdrawing into the floor, yin. Another breath and we are back in downward dog, and the yin/yang dynamic of fire and water is fully harmonized. Or we’re just exhausted. Either way it’s good. Namaste.

Super Blue Blood Moon, as seen from Brooklyn

By | Chinese Medicine Theory, Evolve Health + Wellness, evolve-health-wellness, Pediatrics, Post-Graduate Education, Yang Sheng | No Comments

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Sabine Wilms in NYC

By | Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine Theory, Evolve Health + Wellness, evolve-health-wellness, Internal Medicine, Post-Graduate Education, Yang Sheng | No Comments

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My First Patient

By | Acupuncture, Addiction, Chinese Medicine Theory, Evolve Health + Wellness, Food Is Medicine, Science | No Comments

In Chinese Medical School one of the first things we’re taught is to not needle without the supervision of a licensed practitioner, and one of the first things we learn is almost everyone needles without the supervision of a licensed practitioner.

First of all, it’s fun. Once you realize you can insert painless needles into particular points on the body to “magically” elicit healing responses of varying degrees it becomes as tempting as driving a car with only a learner’s permit. Secondly, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have loved ones suffering as a result of medication falling short of the job. People need help. There’s no time and usually less money, and this is how Dad became my first regular “guinea pig” (his words).

80 year-old man – Chief complaint: Back pain

Dad had been a great athlete, better than I was I’m pretty sure, though he’d never admit so. He played soccer and tennis through college (a whole school’s more than I) and first impressed Mom on a date by leapfrogging a parking meter in his early 40’s. I’m presently 39 and the only thing I can imagine leapfrogging is my pillow into bed.

Somewhere around 70 his body broke down and it seemed with every year his walking stamina was reduced by a full city block. Hip and low back pain, swollen arthritic hands, and macular degeneration in his only functional eye was what scared him most. Understandably, this coincided with a perpetual frustration, the prequel to Depression, and I felt helpless watching my once engaging, charismatic pops transform before my eyes into Cycloid B, sad old man: One word answers, conversations cut shorter, and a subtle but palpable withdrawal from most social cyphers. This is hard to see in a parent – even harder to change in one.

For two years our weekly appointments were malleable around my schedule. Dad had turned from once successful, Manhattan ad executive to struggling, suburban real estate agent, and his schedule was pretty open. Every week I would await his arrival, which was usually a few minutes early, and every week he (inadvertently) tried to make me into a better acupuncturist via his own agenda of relief.

I’d treat him on my bed, face down, sometimes face up, probably attempting whatever “point protocols” I’d just learned that week, always ending with some “Tui-na” massage on his aching back. Results ran the gamut as they tend to, especially with new practitioners and less compliant patients, and I began to “suspect” that he was coming to see me each week just to see me.

On days that I had the bandwidth I would sit and explain to him why it was important to eat healthier, to drink more water and less wine, and even counseled him on how to better manage the pathological patterns that had developed in his dynamic with Mom. Dad was smart, and I’d watch him nod his head in accord with my logic, then come back the next week and shake his head at himself, ashamed, staring at the floor: “I know, son. I gotta do better. I gotta do better.”

I would hear those same four words in all of our conversations for the rest of his life.

It was the first time I observed the little boy inside my father’s eyes. I could see in his gaze the fatherless child he once was, somehow presently in need of my guidance. My once omniscient, hilarious patriarch looked so unknowing and sad, which in turn made me sad, and on my tougher weeks I secretly hoped he would cancel our appointment. I was going through my own personal struggles at the time and couldn’t always fend off the black cloud that seemed to follow him into my tiny Manhattan apartment, hence disallowing of much dilution of said energy.

I’d kiss him on the cheek: “How ya doin’, Pop?”

“Ohhh, I’m alright I guess.”

American male translation: I’m awful, but don’t know how to communicate so.

It seemed like every lead he’d get or hope he had for the sale of a house would fall through, and every week was a new marital conflict with Mom. My once very supportive father barely had two dollars to rub together and it broke his heart that Mom had to work so hard in battle of their reverse mortgage. It broke my heart that it broke his, and I only wished that I’d been unaware enough to not see the parallel between his professional disappointments and my own (comedy) career. Eventually Dad gave up on real estate, mostly because he wasn’t making money, but also his waning energy and visual acuity made driving around town quite difficult. His third and final career would be planning dinner each day for when Mom came home from work. That, crossword puzzles and cheap wine kept him busy for his final years.

In one of our last father/son talks (I as the father, he as son) I encouraged him, as tactfully as possible, to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. The only thing more difficult than convincing a functional alcoholic that they’re an alcoholic is doing so to a parent who’s been drinking his entire life. For some reason we are only able to grasp the concept of the tipped scale when it comes to cigarette smoking. Every other suggested cause and effect is met with: “But I’ve been doin’ this my whole life!”


I gently explained to him for the hundredth time the physiological mechanism by which daily alcohol (and poor diet) might exacerbate his symptoms, also how his consistent intoxication might be contributing to the distance between he and Mom. I never had the strength to add “between he and I” as well.

To my pleasant surprise Dad actually attended the meetings, but never considered quitting drinking, instead naively questioning the rest of the world’s most famous organizational source of sobriety.

“You mean to tell me,” he once confided, “that these people never have a drink? I can’t believe that. I’m gonna ask one of them after a meeting.”

“No! Dad, don’t do that. You don’t have to do that. Trust me. With the exception of the occasional member who might be lying, none of them drink at all.”

“Wow. I can’t believe that.”

He really couldn’t. He kept attending, but much like our acupuncture visits I think he just liked the company and the something to do. In his final years I never saw him drink a glass of water or eat a real breakfast, nor skip his glasses of wine. Although the doctors never assigned him any formal diagnosis, it came as no surprise to me when last month he passed away from heart failure.

Thirty years prior, as a six-year old I’d gotten him to quit smoking with one simple utterance: “Daddy, if you don’t quit smoking you’re gonna die,” and he never lit up again. Apparently logic and supportive evidence persistently delivered by a grown-up doesn’t carry the weight of the wanting look of a child.

I’m not mad, nor do I entirely blame Dad for his condition. I believe there is some karmic assignment to our states of being, but equally that we are active participants in it. We’re all “getting old,” though it’s evident we’re all doing it differently. I guess I can understand skepticism about acupuncture, as we can’t see the “chi” or channels, and some people require tangible evidence detectable by the human senses. However, there is no longer any mystery about the toxicity of sugar, and I think we’re past the generation that fails to recognize functional alcoholism as alcoholism.

My opinion is that the moment sensational pleasures take the place of interpersonal and creative ones we’re in danger of becoming perpetually more dependent upon them. “Let me enjoy my life!” Dad would bark back at Mom when she’d nag about his vices. He’d shuffle off into the living room, full glass in hand. I never saw the joy.

It’s quite simple and scientific, and if only the concept were as drilled into our collective conscious in the same way “smoking kills” has been since my generation: All vices, whether tobacco, alcohol, sugar or sexual overindulgence, serve the same purpose as do anti-depressants. A faux surge of dopamine, which must by the laws of physics “rob Peter to pay Paul,” which means not only fails to address the root of said depression but also contributes to new branches of symptomology. I realize it is easier said than done, but sadness, albeit uncomfortable, is a part of the human experience to be embraced, not muffled and avoided in a psycho-spiritual equivalent to Advil for headaches. It requires courage and patience, which frankly sucks, but is apparently the only way. I’ve now had hundreds of patients since Dad, and request of them all the time: Don’t try to do better. Just do better, as “trying” suggests a mere desire to transform so long as no adversity is involved (which really is paradoxical). It’s not so you can live to be 104, but so the years between 70-85 aren’t so sad.

Love you, Dad.

Winter is coming…

By | Chinese Medicine Theory, Community Classes, Dao Yin, Evolve Health + Wellness, Exercise and Fitness, Preventation + Wellness, Qi Gong, Stress Reduction, Tui Na, Yang Sheng | No Comments

Winter is coming… and Fall is the perfect time to engage in preventative health and wellness!

Here’s how you can use Chinese Medicine to prepare yourself for the turn of the seasons and enjoy a healthy and vital autumn and winter.

We all know that staying healthy during the change of seasons can be challenging. We know to wash our hands to protect ourselves from germs picked up from the subway, or our kids starting school, but what else can you do? You might not know that you can also protect yourself with daily practice of Qi Gong.

In Chinese medicine, our defense from pathogens (or germs, or viruses) is imaged as a kind of epic battle, in which we defend against external pathogenic influences using our Protective Qi, or Wei Qi. Of the six kinds of external pathogens, arguably the most dangerous to us is Cold. And we are quite susceptible to it as the seasons turn from summer to winter. The autumn is a time to protect and build our internal fire, or Yang energy, to help fuel the fight against pernicious Cold. The study of Cold attack is ancient, and complicated, but many illnesses can be traced to an invasion of this “pathogen.” This is why many natural medicines recommend eating warm, cooked foods, and warn against going out into the cold with wet clothes (after sweating through a vigorous gym workout or yoga class), and encourage wearing appropriate layers for the seasons. Just as your grandmother knew, poor protection against cold and wet can mean getting sick. But while she might admonish you to put on your coat, or an extra scarf, these Qi Gong practices can help you generate an energetic protection to fight off the colds and flus from the inside out.

Dao Yin, or guiding the Qi, is one of the main categories of Qi Gong (traditional health cultivating exercises). It is a practice that uses the pathways and acupoints of the body’s energetic systems to strengthen the immune system and ward off injury from attack. This very simple Dao Yin exercise, when done every day, can act to strengthen your Wei Qi. My students like to refer to this as the “Chinese Flu Shot”.

You’ll need to know a few basic principles of Chinese physiology in order to do this exercise:

1. The body is comprised of Yin and Yang aspects. Tender areas such as the belly, inside of the arms and legs are considered Yin. Strong muscular areas such as the back and outside of the limbs are Yang.

2. The arm-yin meridians flow from the torso along the inside of the arms to the fingers. The arm-yang meridians flow from the fingers along the outside of the arms to the head. The leg-yang meridians flow from the head down the torso and along the outer edge or back of the legs to the toes. The leg-yin meridians flow from the toes along the inner edge of the legs to the torso. In this way, the Qi makes a complete circuit of the body.

Next, you’ll need to know two basic hand techniques from Tui Na (a system of medicinal massage).

1. Patting: use a cupped palm to “pack” in energy along the Yin meridian pathways. The image we commonly use to teach this technique is like patting sand into a sand castle.

2. Slapping: use a flattened surface of the hand to strike the Yang surfaces forcefully, like getting rid of air bubbles underneath the surface of saran wrap.

Then, following the pattern of Yang to Yin and Yin to Yang on the body, apply Patting and Slapping to give yourself a vigorous Dao Yin massage. If you can’t remember the pathways of the meridians, just remember to use Patting on the tender spots, and Slapping on the more muscled areas. Do three circuits of the body, head to toe, and finish with Patting at the Dan Tian (the area of the abdomen below the umbilicus). Then, stand still for a few moments with both hands cupping the Dan Tian, to store the energy in your body. Most people will feel invigorated and peaceful at the same time, with a sensation of tingling or activation all along the body’s surface. This is your Wei Qi being strengthened and activated.

This simple exercise is best done in the morning, and also makes a great warm up prior to exercise.

Come by to learn this easy routine as we move into the crisp beauty of the autumn season. We will be offering a free Dao Yin class at Evolve this Fall to help you strengthen and store your qi reserves so you can benefit from and enjoy the rich and deep aspects of Winter stillness. And remember, don’t forget your scarf and hat!