October 25, 2010
The herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine often have legends that explain their names. When someone looks at these herbs from an external cultural point of view the names of the herbs seem a bit obvious. For example the herb “Gu Sui Bu”, meaning “Heal Broken Bones” is used to heal traumatic injury and weak bones due to old age. The development of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) took place over thousands of years. In remote areas in ancient China literacy rates were not high and people needed ways to remember what herbs performed specific functions; as a result names were given to explain these vital details. When traditionally taught: Tai Chi, TCM, Kung Fu and Qi Gong all bring along their own stories and poems to drive their points home. Without further ado, presented below is the story of a potent herb called panax notoginseng, “San Qi” in Mandarin, literally translated as “Three Seven”.
The summer weather was mild, as it always is in Yunnan province. The mountains and valleys had the sweet smell of morning mist and the sun was just beginning to gain strength. Two brothers sat in a quiet courtyard sipping freshly brewed tea. The older of the two brothers was Tian Er, and the younger brother was Zhang Er. The older brother Tian was a devout protector of his younger brother Zhang, Tian was also a master herbalist. Suddenly, Zhang’s nose started to bleed, next his mouth followed. Within the hour he began to bruise throughout his limbs. Zhang, not knowing what to do, turned to his brother Tian and asked for help. Seeing the symptoms at hand, Tian knew just what to do. He quickly returned home and dug up a medicinal herb from his garden and made it into a decoction for his little brother. After a few doses, he was cured.
“Brother, what is this incredible herb that you used to save my life?” little brother Zhang asked.
“It is a special herb used to stop bleeding,” Tian replied “it is a secret that has been passed down from master to student for many years.”
“May I see it?”
Both brothers met at Tian’s garden later that day. Tian led his younger brother to an herb with slightly yellow flowers. “Other than stopping bleeding what other things may this wonderful herb do?” Zhang asked Tian. “It is wonderful at dealing with poor circulation, pain and heart problems. It is also fantastic for treating weapon wounds from the field of battle” Tian replied. Realizing the immense value such an herb could offer, the younger brother said “I heard that people who get my disease have a relapse within three years. May I have some of this wonderful herb to grow at my home?” This was, in fact, not true. The younger brother only wanted to have this powerful plant in his own possession. “Certainly my brother,” said Tian “take this sapling to grow as your own. Please do not tell anyone of this herb, it is a secret and someone might steal it from you.” Zhang agreed.
Zhang took the plant home and cared for it daily, through the fall, winter and later the spring rains. Soon it had been a whole year and the plant was growing into a hearty and healthy plant. Not far from Zhang’s home lived a wealthy land owner whose son had fallen ill with the same bleeding disorder as Zhang had the previous year. Not a single herbalist in the village could cure the problem and the land owner’s son was sure to die. Worried, the father put the word out in the village that if someone could cure his son’s illness he would reward them with a bounty of food and silver. Hearing this, Zhang ran home to dig up the powerful herb still growing in his garden. Zhang prepared the herb for the land owner saying, “This is sure to fix the problem.” However, after several doses the herb still did not work. Eventually the young man died from excessive blood loss.
“You told me that this herbal treatment would work but your true purpose was to get my money” exclaimed the land owner “, we are going to the town official!”
When they got to the town office the official asked “Zhang, where did you hear of this herbal treatment and what plant did you use?” Frightened of the repercussions of his actions, Zhang told them of his brother Tian, the master herbalist. Quickly they rushed to Tian’s home asking him of the details of this plant. “Oh, this treatment has been passed down for many years from master to student. Due to its potency we have kept it a secret.” Zhang hadn’t even waited for Tian to finish his sentence before he yelled out “Brother what a terrible situation! It doesn’t work and now I must pay with my life!”
“Why did it not work?” asked the town official.
Tian, the master herbalist replied “oh, it is still but a sapling. This herb must be harvested after either three or seven years when its effects are the strongest. If you harvest it too young it will not work.”
Realizing his mistake Zhang fell to knees and wept. It was greed that had taken the life of the young man. In the years to come the Chinese people called the herb “San Qi” literally “Three Seven” so they could never forget this vital lesson.
Modern research has shown this potent herb to have a long list of proven benefits, including: anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects, immune boosting properties, the ability to increase blood circulation in the heart and brain while lowering elevated blood pressure, reducing plaque in the arteries and much more.
You can purchase this herb in health food stores or you can also take a trip down to Chinatown and ask for some San Qi powder from an herbalist. Remember it is pronounced “Sahn Chee”. You may also wish to stop by a tea shop and get yourself something to wash down your new herb, here’s to your health!
April 22, 2010
The Eight Movements of Silk, Ba Duan Jin in Mandarin, are one of the most popular forms of Chinese health exercise. The published history of these exercises goes back as early as 1150 A.D. The legendary 12th century Chinese general Yue Fei is said to have used these exercises in maintenance of his troops, keeping their bodies strong and ready for battle. The 19th century lead to wide-spread use of these exercises throughout China as a form of health promotion. The 20th century lead to its use in hospitals. The 21st century has lead to its published efficacy in medical journals.
The Eight Movements of Silk are a series of eight separate exercises, each focusing on a different group of muscles, organ and bio-electrical channel. When traditionally taught this set includes both seated and standing exercises. The order in which they are performed is also particular; similar to the way you warm up for a gym class by exercising specific muscles first.
Modern clinical trials have been published on the Eight Movements of Silk. The results speak for themselves:
Twenty-eight female patients who met the American College of Rheumatology criteria for osteoarthritis of the knee practiced the Eight Movements of Silk for 30 minutes five times a week for eight weeks. After detailed analysis it was determined that these exercises provided a safe treatment option for patients with knee osteoarthritis, as well as offered reductions in pain, stiffness, and disability, which helped improve the patients’ quadriceps strength and aerobic ability.
Another study was performed on the Eight Movements of Silk. In this study bone loss was examined both before and after a 12-week course of the exercises in question. The results showed significant differences in inflammatory markers and bone mineral density between the trial group and the control group. This study demonstrated promising efficacy of the Eight Movements of Silk in preventing bone loss commonly occurring in middle-aged women.
Yet another study on the Eight Movements of Silk was performed, this time to examine its effects on oxidative stress, antioxidant status and quality of life in middle-aged women. In this study the women practiced the Eight Movements of Silk 3 times per week for 12 weeks. The results showed that there were significant differences in serum anti-oxidant levels with this set of exercises. There were also significant improvements in quality of life after the exercise program. Subjects had greater improvements in 4 dimensions of health: physical function, body pain, social function and general mental health (p < 0.05). In conclusion, the Eight Movements of Silk had beneficial effects on improving quality of life, increasing antioxidant enzymes and reducing oxidative stress in middle-aged women.
There is an old Chinese saying that translates as, “Flowing water never grows stale.” Given the light of things like modern biochemistry and physiology this saying is as true now as the day it was first said. Stale water collects bugs. Hinges that move do not rust.
David is a registered Acupuncturist and Herbalist practicing in Ingersoll. He may be reached through his website at http://www.whitecranemedicine.com. He is also currently running classes in Ba Duan Jin Qi Gong at his clinic in town.
April 20, 2010
There is an old saying heard echoed many times from tea sellers in the Chinese community, “A true warrior, like tea, shows their strength in hot water.” Having spent the majority of my life steeped in the philosophy ancient China, I am so happy to see world developing an understanding of some of the finer points of Chinese culture. Tea isn’t just hot water to scientific community anymore.
The practice of drinking tea has a long history in China. According to legend, an Ancient Chinese Emperor discovered tea when a leaf from a tea tree fell into water he was boiling. Hermit monks living in the mountains of China grow tea near their huts. And of course, you cannot have a truly traditional Chinese meal without a pot of tea to wash it down. Why all the fuss over a leaf in hot water? Well, like so many truths in life there is much more to tea than meets the eye.
Researchers have often wondered why tea, despite its caffeine content, tends to relax individuals without making them drowsy. Conversely, hermit monks who engage in meditation, drink tea to dispel mental sluggishness and yet do not become mentally agitated. This can’t be said for coffee. The answer is a rare amino acid called L-theanine. L-theanine is the component in green and oolong tea that is largely responsible for these relaxing benefits. This is good news for the many of us who suffer from stress.
Many tests have demonstrated the anti-stress effects of L-theanine. One of the more revealing of these experiments examined brain wave patterns after the ingestion of L-theanine. People produce specific patterns of electrical pulses on the surface of the brain that mirror brain states.
The four primary wave patterns are known as the alpha, beta, delta and theta brain waves, representing, respectively: relaxed wakefulness, excitation, sound sleep, and dozing sleep.
Fifty volunteers were divided into high-anxiety and low-anxiety groups. Each group was given either 50 or 200 mg of isolated L-theanine in water once a week. Their brain waves were measured during the hour after ingestion. The results showed marked increases in alpha waves starting roughly 40 minutes after ingestion. This showed that L-theanine promotes a form of relaxed wakefulness.
Other papers have also have explored whether the response to L-theanine might be influenced by the level of anxiety found in test subjects. As may have guessed, the greater degree of change is found in those manifesting high anxiety.
As the ancient Chinese would have said, “Tension is who you think you should be; relaxation is who you are.” I don’t know who I would be if it weren’t for the long conversations that I have had with family, friends, teachers & students over a hot cup of tea. As we embark on the spring season with growth inevitably in our futures, it just may be time to pick up a new health habit.
David is a registered Acupuncturist and Herbalist practicing in Ingersoll. He may be reached through his website at www.whitecranemedicine.com.