By David Berkshire, LAc
THE CHINESE VIEWPOINT
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?
FIRE IN THE BELLY
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.
SO, WHAT DOES THE YANG HAVE TO DO WITH FINDING OUT ABOUT MYSELF?
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.
WHAT GOES AWRY?
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.
TREATMENT OF AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
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.
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
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
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
It is possible to heal those parts of ourselves that are holding us
Our website has a list of each of our bios:
https://kwanyinhealingarts.com/pactitioners. 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!
RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
LAMB STEW WITH WHITE BEANS AND GINGER
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
– 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.