Not long ago, I was experiencing some health problems and nothing I did seemed to help. I went through my normal regime of alternative health options—energy work, herbalism, and crystals—and found no relief. I tried my doctor, and didn’t get a satisfactory answer to my problems. After meditating on the problem, I immediately got the message “too much fire” and didn’t really know what that meant. As a magical practitioner, I knew about the four elements. I knew that fire was a certain kind of disposition. Too much can create the agitation I was experiencing. I had tried cooling herbs and stones with no luck. I mentioned my meditation to a friend, and she said she had similar problems, and went to a local acupuncturist to solve the problem of too much fire. So I thought I would give it a try.
I went to a traditional doctor of Chinese medicine. She was trained in China but lives in the US and has a practice in New Hampshire. She explained to me the concepts of acupuncture as briefly as possible, and talked about restoring the proper flow of life energy, or chi, through a system of pathways, or meridians, to regulate the flow of “fire” in me and cool my energy off, relieving my symptoms. I asked her if it would really work, being a skeptic of anything I haven’t tried yet, and she explained to me that in China, for a long time, this was the only form of medicine. If it didn’t work, it wouldn’t have survived or made a lasting impact.
With my introduction out of the way, she began to prep me for a session. I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’m not a big fan of needles and the idea of getting stuck a bunch of times and leaving them in seemed a little crazy to me. But I figured I’d try anything for health and I wouldn’t be a baby about it. I barely felt a pinch as the needles went in, and I tried to meditate and relax as she left me there on the table with these needles sticking out of my body. Occasionally she would come back to check on me, tweak the needles, and eventually took them out. I immediately felt relief. I was amazed at the rapid response my body had. It was not complete nor permanent with the first session, but it definitely did something. She gave me a regime of nasty tasting, yet very helpful herbs that seemed to help the process along. After a few sessions, I soon became a believer in the power and magick of traditional Chinese medicine.
As someone with an avid interest in alternative health procedures, I decided to study more about Chinese medicine, and realized how complementary it was to other forms of healing, from Indian Aryuveda to Western and tribal magical concepts about health and healing. Each uses different symbol systems, but each has a powerful and holistic way of looking at the world. Some Western herbalists have incorporated Chinese methods of diagnosing health crises and even use Chinese herbs in their practice. I set out to study more.
A great overview on Chinese medicine is Chinese Health Care Secrets: A Natural Lifestyle Approach by Henry B. Lin. Much of the esoteric lore is explained in a down-to-earth manner, and helpful real-world suggestions for health are given. In this book, the basic concepts of qi (also known as chi), yin/yang, and the five elements are outlined.
From page 491:
Qi: Qi is an encompassing concept in Chinese medicine, philosophy and indeed, the entire traditional Chinese culture. The operation of the human body as well as the universe depends on this vital qi. Disturbances, disharmony and deficiency of qi will cause disease and natural calamities. Broadly, qi can be defined as the life energy on which depends life itself and the universe. In Chinese medicine, qi in the human body can be classified into various kinds, such as prenatal, postnatal, primordial, organic, or defensive. The stronger the qi one possesses, the stronger will be one’s immunity and the healthier one will be. As such, the conservation, promotion and circulation of qi became one of the central themes in traditional Chinese natural health care and medicine, as well in Chinese philosophy. In terms of the universe, qi very much determines the brightness of celestial objects such as the Sun and stars, and the weather type. Therefore, it is the link between man and nature. From Page 494:
Yin and yang: Yin-yang dichotomy is one of the philosophical bases of traditional Chinese cultures. This pair of polarities stands for almost everything and every phenomenon in the universe. Broadly speaking, yin is the principle realized on earth, while yang is the principle realized in heaven. Individually, both polarities command a bizarre constellation of objects, properties and phenomena. Thus, yin stands for the earth, the female, the moon, the night, benevolence, darkness, softness, water, etc. On the contrary, yang represents the heaven, the male, the sun, the day, righteousness, brightness, hardness, fire, etc. It is in the combination, interrelation and interdependence that everything in the universe has, and will, come into being. From Page 486:
Five elements: The five elements in Chinese philosophy refer to water, fire, wood, metal and earth, which are regarded as the most basic materials by which everything in the universe, including human fate, is made. Each element stands for a host of objects, tangible and intangible, in the world. For instance, kidneys correspond to water, heart to fire, liver to wood, lungs to metal and spleen to earth. There are two basic kinds of relationship between the elements: mutual production and mutual destruction. The relationship of mutual creation works as follows: water creates wood, wood creates fire, fire creates earth, earth creates metal and metal creates water, thus completing the cycle of mutual creation. On the other hand, there is the cycle of mutual destruction among the five elements, which works as follows: water quenches fire, fire melts metal, metal cuts wood, wood looses earth and earth stops water flow, thus completing the cycle of mutual destruction. The relationships among these five elements embody and signify the growth and development of life and disease, and the five element system is widely used in diagnosis and fortune telling. A good suggestion is to practice qigong, also known as Chi Kung and Chi Gung, a Chinese system of using vital chi energy to promote health and well-being in the body and your relationship with the universe. The movements can be learned without special equipment, though there is some interesting complex theory and mystical imagery interlaced with Chi Kung, just as there is in Chinese medicine.
Chi Kung for Beginners, by Scott Shaw, Ph.D., details many exercises, including the Tiao Chi, or "the Harmonizing of the Breath." This exercise is the preliminary breathing exercise used before all other forms of Chi Kung. Because is removes blockages from the meridians, it is often done before any advanced workings. Scott first outlines the preparations of the working, then directs the practitioner to:
"Consciously breathe in deeply through your nose—feel your lungs and stomach expand with the inhalation. This inhalation should not be unnaturally forced, but should, nonetheless, cause your lungs to fill up completely, thereby expanding your chest and stomach. Once your in-breath is completed the Chi filled oxygen should be allowed to leave you lungs naturally exiting through your mouth. Perform this breaking exercise by taking air in through your nose and allowing it to be exhaled through your mouth for seven complete breath cycles." In Chi Gung: Chinese Healing, Energy and Natural Magick by L.V. Carnie, some of the more esoteric sides of Chi Gung are explored, including the comparison of Chi Gung to forms of magick, which I found fascinating. On page 32, a list of organs, with the specific times of day energy flows through them, is listed. Each of these organs has a meridian, or energy pathway, that is detailed in her book.
- Lungs: 3 a.m.–5 a.m.
- Large Intestine: 5 a.m.–7 a.m.
- Stomach: 7 a.m.–9 a.m.
- Spleen: 9 a.m.–11 a.m.
- Heart: 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
- Small Intestine: 1 p.m.–3 p.m.
- Urinary Bladder: 3 p.m.–5 p.m.
- Kidneys: 5 p.m.–7 p.m.
- Pericardium: 7 p.m.–9 p.m.
- Triple Burner: 9 p.m.–11 p.m.
- Gall Bladder: 11 p.m.–1 a.m.
- Liver: 1 a.m.–3 a.m.
If Chinese medicine speaks to you, seek out Chi Gung training and incorporate the principles of chi, yin/yang, and the five elements into your life. For serious students, seek out a qualified Chinese medical practitioner in your area, so you can learn how to effectively incorporate these treatments and teachings into your daily worldview.