Chinese Medicine and Modalities
Chinese Medicine has a long history with many different modalities used to obtain optimal health. Depending on the patient, acupuncturists pick which modalities would best suit the condition. What we tend to use most often are: acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, herbal therapy, and dietary counseling.
Often referred to as ‘moxa’, this is a warming modality that involves the herb mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. It is burned above the skin or on acupuncture points and comes in numerous forms, including cones, sticks, or loose herb. The sticks look like cigars and are held over the skin and can treat large areas. Whereas cones are placed on the skin directly over an acupuncture point and loose herb can be used in the same way, or applied to the free end of an acupuncture needle.
Moxa is one of our favorite modalities, especially in the colder months because the warmth it generates is so penetrating and nourishing. It is great for those that have poor energy, sluggish digestion or feel chilled easily. Research shows that moxibustion increases white blood cell counts which decrease inflammation and boost the immune system.
The Chinese materia medica is an extensive compendium of medicinal substances that include plants, minerals, and animal parts. Each individual medicine, or herb, is classified by its temperature (i.e. cold, cool, hot warm, or neutral) and flavor (i.e. pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty). The combination of these characteristics will illicit different effects on the body and give each herb a specific function, such as heat clearing or dampness eliminating.
Most of the time herbs are used in combinations, called herbal formulas, where multiple herbs work synergistically to treat the root of the disease and alleviate symptoms. The most common ways we use Chinese Herbs in our clinic are in tablet or tincture (liquid) form. Other options include making a tea out of raw herbs or taking a granule formula made of ground up herbs.
Cupping gained a lot of publicity recently when Michael Phelps showed up to swim with large purple circle all over his back. These are ‘cup marks’ and they are made using suction. Applying suction to a muscle acts as a myofascial release technique, kind of a reverse massage. It allows us to pull the connective tissue layer away from the muscle layer, which stops pain from traveling. When we can isolate the pain to one specific area instead of treating numerous areas that it is referring to, via the connective tissue, we can treat it more easily. Cupping can feel a little pinchy at first, but most people enjoy the sensation it brings and the pain relief it provides once the cups have been removed. And yes, sometimes it can leave dark purple circles similar to Michael Phelps, but more often it causes a more mild discoloration.
Food as medicine is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. There are aspects of this that we as Americans are familiar with as well, such as chicken noodle soup when you are sick. It is important to take season and climate into consideration when making food choices so that you use your bodies resources instead of going against them. For example, very cold foods are hard on the digestive fire, so you only want to consume them in the middle of the day when the temperature outside is at its peak and your body is most awake and thus warm. Unlike a lot of Western style dieting advice, we start by having clients add in certain food items before advising them to cut other foods out. In addition, we offer a food based cleanse twice a year, in the spring and fall, to spend more time learning about healthy eating habits and getting recipe ideas to incorporate into your daily life that are sustainable and not a crash course diet.