Autoimmunity – Where Is Your Fire in the Belly?

Home » Autoimmunity – Where Is Your Fire in the Belly?

By David Berkshire, LAc






Autoimmune disease–a term none of us want to hear, though many of

us have encountered it sitting in the doctor's office. Perhaps your

friends or family have been the ones to bear the news of autoimmune

disease: An immune response by the body against its own cells or

tissues. Why would I attack myself? My immune system is supposed to

protect me, and now it's trying to kill me? That's crazy!


Yes, autoimmune disease is crazy. For most physicians, it is also

crazy-making to try to help you or your loved ones recover from it.

Worst-case scenario: You get put on chemotherapy. Best case? Immune

suppressors. Do either of those therapies appeal to you? Will they

heal your body?


What do the Chinese think?




I first heard the term "Fire in the Belly" while reading a book of

that title by Sam Keen. It was my senior year of high school, and I

was in the midst of exploring my identity. Sam Keen was writing as

he explored his identity at the age of 40. It seems we are always

discovering who we are.


The Chinese believe that Fire in the Belly relates to the Yang

energy that resides in our core. This Yang energy is the source of

the body's vitality. Without Yang, no life exists.




Our Yang is strongest when we are children. We have endless energy,

and the only time we stop is when we sleep. We get high fevers that

efficiently clear diseases from our systems. Our childhood is the

time when we develop our digestive and immune systems (many refer

to these in combination, as the GALT system).


Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education and a prolific

scientist and writer, drew an important parallel between physical

and psychological immunity. He explained that as we physically

develop the immunity to say, "I've seen this flu virus before, and

it worked best to use these white blood cells," we are also

developing the intellectual capacity to say, "I'm David, and I'm an

individual separate from you."


As we age, our Yang energy, or Yang Qi, continues to drive both our

physical immunity and our sense of self. Our systems become less

extreme with time: Our fevers aren't as high, and our sleep isn't

as deep. Our Yang Qi actually becomes more balanced as we mature,

provided that we know who we are.




What if we never find out who we are? If we don't know ourselves,

how can we discern what is us and what is an invader? The Chinese

medical texts explain that our meridians and Wei, or protective, Qi

do not fully develop until we are 14 years old. Puberty is a vital

turning point in finally defining our identity. Steiner believed

that basic individual immunity develops by the age of seven. By the

time of puberty, we begin to learn to be responsible and somewhat

sophisticated in our identity-based reactions.


Maturation into puberty is dependent upon the Yang Qi in the body.

It provides the energy for the cells to divide, our hair to grow,

our awakening to sexuality, and more.




In Chinese medicine, Yang Qi is related to heat, to activity, to

strength, to outward expression, and to creativity. Chinese medical

theory is based in balance: not too much, not too little. You know,

that old "Middle Way" that the Buddha taught about.


If we burn the candle at both ends -we don't sleep enough; we work,

exercise, or eat too much – our Yang Qi gets exhausted. Our

lifestyle habits overwhelm our natural vitality. Sometimes we also

actively suppress our life-giving Yang Qi: We get a fever, and we

decide to go to work, so we take an Advil to reduce our Yang

expression (our natural immune response). By suppressing the fever

with Advil, we effectively stuff the moving, expressive energy back

into our bodies. After repeated suppression, the Yang Qi may stop

trying to rise anymore. If you were told not to come out and play,

wouldn't you give up eventually?


In Fire in the Belly, Sam Keen strives to explain what it is to be

a mature man. He comes up with this description of healthy

masculine energy: strength balanced with an ability to protect.

Sounds like a balanced immune system to me. Chinese medicine

traditionally regards the Yang as the masculine force in the body,

balanced with the feminine Yin. The Yang Qi is ideally supposed to

rise from the kidneys (the water element), be motivated by the

liver (the wood element), express itself through the heart (the

fire element), and then return back to the lower belly through the

spleen and stomach (the earth element). The whole body system

begins and ends in the kidneys, with the movement of the Yang Qi.

The rising and falling of the Yang Qi is also emblematic of a

healthy circadian rhythm, the natural energy pattern of the day. It

wakes at dawn, expresses and peaks by noon, then returns to the

interior to be recharged at night. When our immune system needs a

boost, it raises our temperature, calling upon the Yang Qi to help

us literally sweat it out.




If you have an autoimmune condition, you are complaining you are

either too hot or too cold. The Yang and the Yin are out of

balance. Generally, the Yang Qi is activated in the wrong place: It

is too active at night, causing you insomnia; or it is absent

during the day, and you are super-tired.


We need to get the Yang Qi back into its natural rhythm. The key to

re-establishing that rhythm is discovering where it fell into

disharmony in the first place. As both Steiner and the ancient

Chinese sages would say, things likely went awry in those early

formative years of life. Now, the job is to create an opportunity

for the body to relearn those lessons.


Acupuncture and homeopathy have proven to be my best tools for

teaching the body in this way. Both medicines are energetic and

moving, so they have an affinity with the Yang Qi. They stimulate

the body to respond, encouraging it to change. This encouragement

allows the body to re-discover its own identity. Recognition of the

true self restores the immune system's ability to do its job.

Chinese herbalism also has a place within this medicine. Sometime

in the first century CE, Zhong Zhongjing wrote a treatise on Cold

Damaging Diseases (Shang Han Lun). This ancient text examines the

varied pathological patterns that can damage the Yang Qi, offering

effective herbal prescriptions for each. Resurrecting the Yang Qi

allows the body to recover. Often, in addition to acupuncture and

homeopathy, these Chinese herbal formulas may catapult the body

towards recovery.


Finally, personal lifestyle is important in treating autoimmune

conditions. We must get enough sleep to allow the Yang Qi to

recover. We must nourish the immune system to fight illness

appropriately, avoiding foods that are cold in nature and may

further damage the Yang Qi.


All the practitioners at Kwan-Yin Healing Arts Center understand

the necessity of the Yang Qi, along with the important role of

proper immunity in the body. Our naturopathic doctors may approach

the illness by running similar blood panels to those of your MD,

but they will analyze the results from this holistic point of view.

Our acupuncturists and Chinese medicine practitioners will examine

where the Yang Qi has gone awry and work to bring that back to

balance. Chiropractic and massage therapy both work to bring the

physical body into more harmony, allowing the Yang Qi to respond

more appropriately. Psychotherapy facilitates conscious discovery

of where the Yang Qi's development was arrested, and works to heal

the mind.


It is possible to heal those parts of ourselves that are holding us



Our website has a list of each of our bios: You may also call

the office at 503-701-8766 and speak to our

amazing office managers, who can guide you to the right person for

your individual needs.


Please feel free to call us with any questions you may have. We

encourage you to schedule a complimentary 15-minute free

consultation so we can hear your story. We hope to have a chance to

meet you in person!






THERAPEUTIC EFFECT: Lamb is the warmest of the meats, which

strongly supports your yang qi. Ginger stimulates your digestion

and warms the stomach – helping with that fire in the belly. A good

soup that will support the yang and keep you warm this winter.



Makes about 6 servings



– 1 1/2 pounds boned lamb stew meat, excess fat trimmed

– About 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

– 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

– 1 onion (8 oz.), peeled and chopped

– 2 1/2 cups fat-skimmed beef broth

– 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger

– 1 tablespoon grated orange peel

– 2 tablespoons anise seeds

– 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

– 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

– 3 carrots (about 10 oz. total), peeled and sliced

diagonally 1/4 inch thick

– 3 cans (15 oz. each) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

– 3 tablespoons minced cilantro

– Salt

– Fresh cilantro sprigs



1. Rinse lamb and pat dry. Place flour in a plastic bag and add

about half the meat; seal bag and shake to coat pieces lightly with

flour. With your hands or tongs, lift pieces out and shake off

excess flour. Repeat with remaining lamb. Discard remaining flour.


2. Set a 5- to 6-quart pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon

oil and tilt to coat pan bottom. When oil is hot, add about half

the meat in a single layer, pieces slightly apart. Cook, turning as

needed to brown all sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer meat to

a rimmed plate and repeat to brown remaining lamb, adding 1 more

tablespoon oil. Transfer second batch to plate.


3. Add onion to pan and stir until limp, about 2 minutes. Return

all the lamb and any accumulated juices to pan, then stir in broth,

ginger, orange peel, anise seeds, allspice, and cayenne. Bring to a

boil over high heat, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer

until meat is tender when pierced, about 1 hour.


4. Add carrots, return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered,

until carrots are tender when pierced, about 20 minutes. Add beans;

cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 5

minutes. Stir in minced cilantro and salt to taste. Pour into a

serving bowl. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

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