Rich Macgurn

Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist


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Season Change

 

The days are still warm, but the nights are cooling off.  Winds are shifting. Last week the clouds began to role in during the wee hours and blanketed the parched landscape. This was immediately followed by dry warm winds from the East. Still, the blazing morning sun on our eastern-sloped hillside has moderated to a gentle warmth. I live on the edge of a plateau. When the rain finally comes it will drain south through our little canyon and make its way to the San Diego Bay.

The frenetic energy of the birds has tuned down to match the slowing rhythms of September. This is the seasonal transition. For a few weeks the weather will oscillate wildly, as though swinging back and forth on a hinge.

According to Chinese Medicine, Fall is the time of the lungs. The lungs encompass what we call the Immune System in this culture. As we know this is the time of year when we must guard against the influenza virus. I have already seen 2 cases this week. An important way to do this is to stay present and conscious of the changes. In this way our lungs can keep rhythm and balance with the other organs of circulation, like the heart and liver. One way to stay conscious is to regularly focus on slow, deep breathing throughout the day.

We are leaving summer, which is the time of year associated with fire and the heart. The beginning of fall is the time to gather and reap the harvest from the seeds of our labors earlier in the year. Across the world, harvest celebrations are taking place; one last chance to give thanks and revel together in bounty.

The end of fall is when we begin to store away the year’s harvest and move inwards for winter. Although most of us are now alienated from these agricultural cycles that have grounded us for thousands of years, they still hold metaphorical power.

To purify and maintain proper circulation, the lungs must stay moist like a tropical forest canopy. I hope the Santa Ana’s are mild this year. I see a lot of headaches in my clinic when these desert high pressure systems move in. People often feel general discomfort and anxiousness and their previous symptoms may be exacerbated. If a person becomes sick i.e. from a virus, it may become more intense with heat symptoms like fever and thick yellow phlegm. The dry air will contribute to a lingering dry cough.

Prevention

To cure a disease with medicines is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty; it is like making weapons when war has already broken out. Which could be too late to do much good                                                                                                            -Neijing

 

Because we are part and parcel of the natural world, Chinese Medicine uses metaphors of nature as a way of understanding illness. This grounding in the cycles of the natural world, like the changing seasons, gives us important insight in times like these. when we don’t have appropriate cultural guideposts for understanding our place within these natural cycles we can become unhinged, lose balance, and become vulnerable to illness. In this chaotic modern world we must recuperate and remake some of this traditional knowledge in order to maintain balance, and therefore health.

In ancient China the yearly cycles were often conceived of as one complete breathe. The inhalation begins with the rising yang energy of Spring, which culminates in Summer.  Fall is the beginning of the exhalation which terminates with the yin energy of winter.

The Clinic

In a clinic setting I work mostly with people who have already lost balance and need assistance to get back on a healthy path. We may discuss diet and exercise and breathing techniques. I will chose selectively among the hundreds of acupuncture points along channels running throughout the body. I choose amongst more than one hundred and fifty herbs in my pharmacy for a combination (formula) designed for each individual patient. During this time of year the strategy may involve boosting lung qi (think ‘immune system’). It could involve clearing heat or phlegm congestion from allergic inflammation or too much summer revelry. It could be ‘banking up earth’ or strengthening the digestion in order to support the lungs. It could be working with someone to moderate and understand cyclical depression, which often begins this time of year. In any case however, it is always preferable to take action before imbalances manifest themselves into major illness.


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The Sun and the Moon, Yin and Yang

Old [Celtic] writers had an admirable symbolism that attributed certain energies to the influence of the sun, and certain others to the lunar influence. To lunar influence belongs all thoughts and emotions that were created by the community, by the common people, by nobody knows who, and to the sun all that came from the high disciplined or individual kingly mind.

… All that is under the moon thirsts to escape out of bounds, to lose itself in some unbound tidal stream….But in supreme art or in supreme life there is the influence of the sun too, and the sun brings with it, as old writers tell us, not merely discipline but joy; for its discipline is not the kind the multitudes impose upon us by their weight and pressure, but the expression of the individual soul turning itself into a pure fire and imposing its own pattern, its own music, upon the heaviness and dumbness that is in others and in itself.

… When we have drunk the cold cup of the moon’s intoxication, we thirst for something beyond ourselves, and the mind flows outward to a natural immensity; but if we have drunk from the hot cup of the sun, our own fullness wakens, we desire little, for wherever one goes one’s heart goes too…

-W.B. Yeats from the preface to Lady Gregoy’s Complete Irish Mythology

 

I like this passage because it grapples with a lot of fundamental Celtic ideas about the world. It demonstrates one particular type of mythological dualism that is not entirely different than the Chinese conception of Yin and Yang. Yeats is talking about art, rather than medicine, but the thing that I really like is that it grounds the human experience within metaphors of the natural world. And life is a kind of art, is it not.

There are many ways of understanding health and physiology, but one of the reasons I find the explanatory model of Chinese Medicine so compelling is that health is considered integral and related to every other aspect of life. In this high-pitched, stressed out society, we could certainly benefit from tuning into the natural cycles around us and re-inventing our relationship to those phenomenon.

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What is Qi?

Pronounced Chee. Sometimes spelled Chi.

At the root of Chinese Medicine is the idea of Qi. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is an intangible influence which animates our world. It flows in and through us. When we have qi we are alive. Without qi, we are dead. Most every culture has a name for this “life force.” For example, in Egyptian mythology, a persons ‘ka,’ or ‘life spark’ was blown into them at the moment of birth. Similarly, in the Torah (Old Testament) the Hebrew word

for breath, or wind was used to signify spirit. In the New Testament, the Greek word pneumo was used to signify spirit. Pneumo, the root for words like pneumonia, connotes the breath of the lungs.

A key principle is that qi must stay moving. When qi flow is impaired, pain and disfunction arises. To state it simply, the goal of acupuncture is to diagnose and adjust imbalances in qi. From this simple principle is built a vast and complex medicine. Many thousands of books have been written about Qi. For now I will keep this short.

ancient scroll depicting exercises for cultivating and balancing Qi

ancient scroll depicts exercises for cultivating & balancing Qi