Thursday, January 31, 2008


I hadn’t expected my post titles to represent the Elements theme, however, it appears that just as life evolves, so do Blog titles. Therefore, in keeping with my newfound theme, I decided to focus today’s discussion on the Earth Element.

As a background, I’ve recently completed a nearly 4 year course on the study of Chinese herbal medicine, Western Herbal medicine, and Ayruvedic herbal medicine through the East West School of Herbal Medicine. Add this to 17 years of studying and teaching about western herbal medicine. To say the least, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is no easy subject for our Western minds to grasp.

Us Westerners are so accustomed to taking a pill for this symptom or that. Western herbal medicine has kept that basic Western premise of taking an herb for this or an herb for that. Whole sections of high-end, alternative, organic groceries have been created in keeping with that line of thinking—take Echincea for colds, take St. John's Wort for depression, take Chamomile to calm down, etc.

The Chinese theory is W-A-Y different. It is so different, in fact, that it is downright difficult to grasp. However, I’ve spent countless hours diligently studying these concepts and theories, and I’m finally feeling pretty solid in my understanding of TCM theory and diagnosis.

Since it was being pondered upon in the BTNO, I’ll admit that one motivation for beginning a blog was to use it as a way to expand my knowledge of herbal medicine simply by writing about it and sharing it with others. No better way to learn than to try to teach it to others! However, my interests are far too vast to stick strictly to one topic, so be prepared for my musings to venture far beyond the herbal realm.

Back to my Element theme, however…

The origin of TCM theory is lost in prehistory, before writing was invented. Written language started in China during the Shang Dynasty in 1766 BC. The writings on medicine at that time project back in history over two thousand years. Ancient works are alluded to in the prehistoric period, but are now lost as "legendary".

TCM theory discusses the Five Element Relationships. To be sure, this is one of the most confusing topics I encountered during my studies.

The five elements include: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

Each element is associated with a specific bodily organ.

Wood is associated with the Liver.
Fire is associated with the Heart.
Earth is associated with the Spleen.
Metal is associated with the Lungs.
Water is associated with the Kidneys.

While I could go into great detail about the relationships between the elements, the organs, and how they all relate to physical health, I’ll save that for another day.

The Earth element is said to stabilize. The Yin organ associated with the Earth element is the Spleen and the Yang organ is the stomach. The Spleen in TCM is responsible for taking the energy of food and transforming it into physical energy or Qi. By eating foods that are neither too cooling (such as ice water, ice cream, too many raw veggies and fruits, and juices), nor too warming (such as alcohol, fried or greasy foods, or the excessive consumption of spicy food) we can help to maintain balance within the spleen and stomach, and thus, our Earth element.

Something to strive for, to be sure! In our modern, harried, and fast-paced world, it is nearly impossible to eat as our bodies were intended to be fed. And despite the fact that we will never be able to eat perfectly well all the time, we can surely try to do things right part of the time.

While many diets advocate a variety of dietary options: low carb/high protein, low fat/low calorie, low flavor/low excitement, etc., TCM advocates eating meals based on climate, bodily constitution, season, and stages of wellness or sickness. General recommendations include eating primarily whole grains and legumes, steamed or otherwise cooked greens and veggies, and moderate amounts of protein.

Enough TCM theory for my brain, this morning.

We’ll find another element to focus on later.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


As in fever.

Feverishness seems to be running rampant in this community as of late. It seems that just about everyone I know is either in the process of getting sick, being sick, or getting over being sick.

Myself included.

Part of me wants to hole up in my own domestic cave and not come back out into the public until this threat of gnarly sickness has passed.

But, of course, that is impossible as there is simply the mundane realities of work, groceries, and errands; as well as the ever-inviting realities of outdoor play--snow on the mountain, ice in the canyons, and walks everywhere in between.

My office recently became the breeding ground for a whole host of disgusting illnesses--pink eye, the flu, some excrutiatingly horrible strain of sore throat, bronchitis, colds with fevers, colds with chills, and just general colds. Oh yeah, and some sort of stomach bug too.

Considering I work with a mere 13 people in a farily decent sized building, this onslaught of nasties seemed downright terrifying. I started feeling like I had OCD as I wouldn't think of touching food nor face unless I'd scrubbed and rescrubbed my hands. Forget touching the water cooler, the coffee pot, or the bathroom door handles--I'd get a paper towel for that!

That's when I knew something had to be done. So, with bleach, bucket, gloves, sponge, and spray bottle, I went to work on the concrete and steel petrie dish my office had become.

For the time being, at least, I am not so paranoid about opening doors or turning on faucets at my workplace.

In general, there are some tips people can use towards staying healthy during cold and flu season. It doesn't seem like anyone I work with is taking these steps, but maybe if I share them again, people might begin to incorporate them into their day to day.

1) Avoid a diet high in sugar, caffeine, and processed foods. Whole grains, steamed or stir-fried greens, moderate amounts of high protein, will help nourish the body, and the mind.

2) Avoid excess alcohol consumption--a sort of no-brainer, that many choose to ignore.

3) Choose an immune stimulating supplement to incorporate into the diet--astragalus, reishi mushroom, and elderberry are all immune stimulating and won't trash the body. Echinacea can be helpful for some types of colds--hot colds where you're burning up inside, your eyes are on fire, and your throat feels like your saliva is made from lye.

4) Drink plenty of water each day.

5) Get plenty of exercise each week. Nothing like sweating to remove toxins from your body!

6) IMO, the most important one of all--wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your eyes unless you've washed your hands. (A bit of advice from a friend who grew up with a daycare facility in him home--apparently his mother enforced this, and he and his sisters rarely got sick.)

7) Carry around an arsenal of good luck!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Considered to be one of 6 "evil pernicious influences" in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Wind is considered to be the cause of a whole slew of nasties.

Wind is said to bring other evil Qi (Chi or energy) in with it.

Given the wind that was slamming into and through my house last night, I can assure you that there was a an entire army of evil Qi being circulated in and around and through my domestic domain. When I stumbled into the commode this morning, a bit scattered and loopy from hearing the tiles on my roof shaking all through the night, I was startled to see the water in the toilet moving up and down as if the almighty wind was in the pipes themselves! Evil nasties, indeed!

According to TCM, wind is considered to be the most important of the 6 evils as it is the cause of the "100 diseases".

Symptoms of illness caused by wind generally start with a stiff, aching neck, headache, itching skin, and aching joints.

Wind is thought to disperse Qi upward and outward.

Given the upward and outward diasarray that my brain feels this morning, I would have to agree...I think I'll go fix myself another cup of coffee, and hope for a little calm before the forecasted comeback of more of this evil pernicious influence.

Oh yes, one more thing, a word of practical advice that most any Grandma might give, wearing a scarf around your neck while travelling through this nasty wind will protect your neck and head, and is prescribed so in TCM.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Winter in New Mexico is always remarkable--you just never know what the weather gods will serve up. We've recently had two weeks of dry and extremely cold weather, only to have rain commence upon us late yesterday evening.

This comes, of course, after I just found more ice.

Ice is the elusive and ever-mutable siren that calls to those of us wishing to reach her call with axes and crampons.

For years I've searched high and I've searched low. I've noticed ice forming up miles away and on rocks that I can barely see, while driving through our town's primary north-south intersection. I've sought out locations based on topographical images on maps, only to find snow, or rock, or nothing notable at all. I've kept the ice we have found secret for more than a decade in the hopes that people won't kick it down before we get our chance to lap up and down it.

And yesterday, while not even searching at all, I found a most remarkable stash of ice in an isolated and beautiful grotto that is still a not-too-long and easy walk in.

With the excitement of finding something new and beautiful, however, comes the rain, and the worry that the ice will get washed away.

But for now, we are hoping it is still intact for an ascent later on today.