End of Days (Buffy, Season 7, Episode 21)

The penultimate episode of the televised Buffy series!  ‘Always more’ is a phrase which jumped out at me while watching this episode again:  Chinese Medicine always has more to learn.  Whether it is learning to sense the flow of meridians in one’s own body through physical practices like Tai Ji, Qi Gong, or other martial arts, or how to prepare herbal medicines that you’ve grown yourself, or refining your needling and diagnostic techniques, Chinese Medicine — and the beautiful patients one encounters and treats — provides an endless series of challenges to deepen one’s skill and insight.    

In this episode, after Buffy saves Faith and the Potentials from death at the ends of the Turok-Han, Buffy reflects for a moment with two characters, Spike and Faith.  She tells Spike that the night they shared, with him just holding her, gave her the courage to go on.  With Faith, she discusses the mutual loneliness they each feel being Slayers.  In the instance with Spike, closeness was achieved through simply being present; in the other, closeness was cultivated through verbal expression.  Both are involved in the clinic, as a practitioner develops his or her bedside manner.  In many respects, that closeness with patients, is the single most important aspect of treatment, and is a skill which one must continually refine.  It must be continually refined in the sense that attentiveness is generated constantly in the present moment, in being present with the patient, and in drawing out the patient’s story, or ‘illness narrative’.

‘Does it have to mean anything?’ someone in this episode asked.  The same thing happens in the clinic.  Does an illness have to mean anything?  As practitioners of Chinese Medicine, we are adept at helping patients make sense of their illnesses, even drawing attention to the larger metaphors an illness or meridian disorder highlights.  But does it need to mean anything?  After all, illness is just the body’s physiology; it need not impinge on the character of the person.

Closeness is achieved through the meridian systems of Chinese Medicine in different ways.  In the primary meridian system, the Stomach meridian brings things internally, so they can be ‘digested’ and incorporated.  Pathologically, the ST meridian results transforming external wind-heat into internal heat.  Among the Channel Divergences, the San Jiao or Triple Warmer Channel Divergence brings things interiorly, to the heart.

In terms of its trajectory, the SJ CD moves from ‘100 meetings’ at the top of the head and enters interiorly at ST-12, from which it goes to the HT (and later CV-12, the mu point of the Stomach).  Thus it is the CD of bringing things closer, intimately.  Being a channel divergence, note that bringing things interiorly is not its function; rather, it shapes the form of things coming closer:  from meeting to ‘swallowing’ to the heart and the spirit’s curriculum in life, and then to integration in a person’s post-natal life.

The SJ CD treats skin issues of extreme dryness (Sjorgen’s syndrome, for example), as by this point, the body has lost most of its fluid in trying to keep a pathogen latent.   The dryness can include anything from ascites, celulitis, clove sores and psoriasis, to nodule and lymph node swellings.  fire toxins and wind coming out.  It can sometimes also include organ symptoms, as when endocrine and exocrine function have both ceased. 

The SJ CD trajectory is quite short.  As mentioned, it begins at Du20, the most yang point on the body in terms of being at the top of the head.  As such, it is one location at which wei qi converges.  Wei qi is yang in nature, and Yang qi rises to top.

From Du-20, the channel passes to the Window of the Sky point SJ16, ‘Celestial Orbit’.  All other WTS points evolve from this one (even if their collective name is taken from SI-17).  This means the point has an incredible capacity not only to release the neck, but also to open the portals of perception and connection between the observed external world and the internal world of the heart.  Through this opening, alchemically, the body’s qi and jingshen can move from the heart to the brain and form the celestial fetus. 

From SJ16, the path moves to ST12, the basin of clavicle which allows qi to enter interiorly, before linking up to the SJ channel itself.   In terms of points, CV17 diffuses into SanJiao in middle of chest and provides access to the Heart.  From here, CV12 is the next point, a converging of SJ, SI, and ST meridians.  These three organs are the organs of food transformation:  ST digests with aid of SP and KD, the SJ conducts KD yang to the ST to aid that transformation, and the SI separates the pure from the impure.  Because the SJ trajectory needs a point in the lower jiao, and because it has already linked to the SI through ST-12, soem commentators remark that the next point on its trajectory is CV-4, the mu point of the SI.  From here, the body could attempt to lodge the pathogen back in KD-11.  KD-11 is a doorway to the earth, known for its ability to release latent holding.  In this regard, the SJ CD can be used in reverse, to bring things deeper into the body as well as to release some deeply held pathogens.

In terms of herbal medicine, Zhi Zi containing medicinals tend to treat the San Jiao.  One way to test whether a zhi zi containing formula is appropriate for the person is to press on CV-17 or CV-15; if it is sore, the formula is appropriate.  A simple prescription would be Sang Xing Tang, with Sang Ji Sheng or Di Gu Pi added to direct the formula to the jing as well as the wei levels in the body.  Sang Xing Tang contains equal parts of sang ye, zhi zi, dan dou chi, zhi bei mu, and li pi; twice as much sha shen; and a middling dose of xing ren. 

If one wanted to compose a formula which goes to each of the points on the trajectory in turn, one could start with Gao Ben, which goes to Du-20; then Shi Chang Pu or Chuan Bei Mu to open the orifices of the neck; from there, a heavy descending herb with a Yang-Ming tropism could be selected — like Shi Gao (which also moistens).  The SJ meridian would be covered by Zhi Zi, while Qu Mai, Bai Mao Gen, Dong Gua Ren, Dong Kui Zi, or Deng Xing Cao could be used to drain the pathogen out via urine and tie the SJ relationship to the SI channel.  Sang Ji Sheng, Di Gu Pi, or Niu Xi could anchor the formula in the jing level of the hips.  Key to composing a formula for typical SJ CD pathologies is selecting herbs which also moisten. One resulting formula thus looks like this:

Gao Ben – Release exterior, alleviate pain, dispel wind-damp bi

Chuan Bei Mu – transform phlegm, stop cough, moisten Lungs, dissipate nodules in the neck

(Shi Chang Pu could be used in small amounts, as it is drying, but specifically opens the orifices)

Shi Gao – Drain fire, clear heat, alleviate thirst

Zhi Zi – Drain fire, clear heat, drain damp, cool blood, relieve toxicity

Dong Kui Zi – Promotes urination, relieves pain, moistens the intestines

Di Gu Pi – Cool blood, reduce deficient heat, moisten dryness

Finally, another formula which may be useful in cases of skin infections due to acne, folliculitis, or even diabetes, an internal formula which can be taken is Gua Lou Gui Zhi Tang:  Gui Zhi, Bai Shao, and Sheng Jiang at 9g; Gua Lou Gen and Gan Cao at 6g; 12 pieces of Da Zao.  Gua Lou Gen can be taken at higher dosages as appropriate.  This formula does not specifically target the SJ CD, but instead works on harmonising the interior-exterior relationship of humours in the body.  Gui zhi and sheng jiang release the exterior and relate to wei qi; shao yao and da zao relate to ying qi.  Together they harmonise the ying and the wei.  Gan Cao goes to all 12 meridians, and Gua Lou Gen nourishes the yin of the Stomach and Lungs.  As the root of a plant, it has a tropism for deeper levels of the body, and although it does not impact jing itself, it does benefit body fluid as a whole.  The formula generates fluid to nourish the ying, relaxes the Liver to smooth the flow of ying qi to all parts of the body, and unblocks wei qi so that it can be nourished by ying qi and defend the body appropriately. 

As always, these posts are for educational purposes only.  If you or a loved one have a hundred meetings which you are having difficulty making sense of, please see a qualified practitioner.  Happy Slayage!

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Two to Go (Buffy, Season 6, Episode 21)

As the Sccobies try to stop Willow and save the remaining two ‘Super Villains’ (who were placed in a jail cell after the aborted jetpack attempt in Episode 19), Xander comments that he’s seeing all the dark sides of people lately. Meanwhile, Willow drains herself of magic, goes to Rack for a ‘tune up’, kills him, and gets drugged out on magic. She also cannot see anything else since Tara’s death.  As she is about to finish off her friends, she gets blasted by a returning Giles.  A small trickle of blood leaks from her nose from that blast.

This is a fairly difficult episode to diagnose, and I don’t really have an acupuncture treatment for nosebleeds.  (Herbally, just roll up a fresh perilla leaf and insert it into the bleeding nostril.)  However, the Arm Yang Ming sinew vessel treats an inability of the neck to turn right or left to see.  I will therefore use it to treat both Xander and Willow (if one can get to her), in an attempt to resolve their  inability to see aught else, that is, to turn the head to see other options.  The Arm Yang Ming sinew symptoms differ from the Foot Tai Yang sinew indications in that the latter involves an inability to move either left or right, while the former involves the issue of sight.

The Arm Yang Ming sinew vessel goes up along the front of the neck, and in this case, opening the orifices of the neck is of supreme importance.  The SCM, scalenes, levator scapula, and deep front line should all be massaged gently, to loosen them up and engage the parasympathetic nervous system.  I might forgo cupping or doing gua sha on Du-4 and Du-14 in this case, and try to stimulate the areas with tui na or acupressure while the patient is in a supine position.  Surprise needling with a hot needle is indicated for the inability to turn the head to see, but okyu or thread moxa along tender points of the vessel works well, too.  LI-18 in particular may be tender, as well as points around the shoulder, LI-10 and LI-11.  The treatment can close either by okyu at LI-1 or following that, by needling LI-2, to keep the illness from going internally.  In that case, I would needle LI-2, and do cone moxa at ST-9 or ST-5, with a needle at ST-12 (the point at which illnesses truly go interior into the body).

For herbal medicine, Gou Qi Zi, goji berries, help a person look at their own shadow and not recoil.  That capacity must be brought to the surface, to the wei qi level, and so I would combine the Gou Qi Zi with Ju Hua, Chrysanthemum, which is said to benefit the eyesight, in addition to releasing the exterior.  In other words, Ju Hua not only moves wei qi, it draws the wei qi up and out from BL-1.  Because it goes to both the Lung and Liver, its influence over the proper movement of we qi is particularly effective.  Sang Ye, which aids in self-transformation, is another exterior releasing herb which goes to the Lung and Liver.  However, if we want to move the wei qi into the Yang Ming sinew vessels, Xin Yi Hua makes an effective envoy.  As the primary herb to treat runny nose, it not only opens the orifices through its acridity, freeing up perception, it also goes to where the arm and foot yang ming channels meet, namely, the nose.  The trajectory of both those channels passes along the front of the throat, and in combination with other exterior releasing herbs, will help free up those muscles.  (Some herbalists may want to add Mu Zei or Ge Gen, both of which release the muscle layer, for added efficacy in a strictly muscular case of inability to turn the neck to see.)

As always, these posts are for entertainment and educational purposes only.  If you or a loved one are so focused on one thing that you cannot see other options, or if your neck has seized up due to a cold draft, please see a qualified practitioner.

Happy Slayage!

The Weight of the World (Buffy, Season 5, Episode 21)

Glory, experiencing a moment of mercy as she awaits her rebirth into the hell she came from, is restless.  She feels ‘tight in her skin’.  It should come as no surprise that such a feeling would be associated with the luo of the Conception Vessel. The Conception Vessel (or Ren Mai) is usually associated with bonding and pacing the assimilation of the world around oneself.  Here, we see Glory and Ben are both emotionally assimilating to one another’s worlds, and the pace of switching from one to the other is speeding up out of control.

In repletion, the CV luo is characterised by pain in the skin of the abdomen.  In depletion, the symptom is an itchy abdomen, a sort of restless core rather different from the ‘hot hands’ of the Lung luo.  From the luo point of CV-15, it disperses over the abdomen, and it manifests as spider veins lining the costal margin.  E Jiao and Gui Ban both go to the Conception Vessel.  Zhi Shi treats tormenting itching.  Any of the three can be added to Si Wu Tang, along with Sang Ye or Jie Geng to float the formula outwards towards the surface of the skin.

Glory raises some interesting points about feelings, which I’d like to relate to the idea of blood and luo vessels as repositories of human feeling.  Glory describes people as having all sorts of bile running through them.  They have no control.  Humans, she says, are ‘meat-baggy slaves to hormones and pheromones and their feelings… Hate ’em!’  What she does not tie in, however, is that the hormones she posits as a source of feelings are carried by the blood.  Pheromones, emitted by scent and sweat glands, elicit hormonal responses, again through the medium of blood. It does not seem surprising that blood was chosen as the site of ‘internal’ and ’emotional’ physiology.

Glory goes on to talk about how ‘Human emotions are useless… people getting jerked around by their emotions’.  That thought also is not foreign to many meditative traditions; hence the practice of what in Christianity was termed ‘recollection’ and today in Buddhism is called ‘mindfulness’, the cultivation of a pause to feel the body and the body and not as a feeling warranting an unthought meaning before acting.  It is a simple practice of attentiveness to the world as it is, as you experience it, before you associate the experiences with any verbal interpretations.

Another aspect of human life the episode raised is guilt, and the weight of the world as the burden of potential.  In Chinese Medicine, as I’ve described before, dampness is something good which because it has become too much and cannot be used, becomes burdensome and pathological.  Therefore, for Buffy, herbs which transform dampness or bolster the Spleen (and its ability to mull and meditate) would be called for.   I wonder if this aspect of dampness and the pain of potential is one reason why the SP-21 point was chosen over GB-23? (At the very least, it could serve as a mnemonic device.)

In this episode we also learn about the ritual bloodletting that will open the portal to other worlds.  Yes, it is true:  I chose the luo vessels for this season precisely because I knew the ending of the season.  However, I did not know how well the episodes would provide an opportunity to explore nearly all the luo points.  I hope I did well enough that the points and indications are memorable.  Season Six will likely begin with Extraordinary Vessel treatments and then move  on to using the Sinew Vessels.

As always, these posts are for educational and entertainment purposes only.  If you feel restless and have an itchy abdomen, please see a qualified practitioner of Chinese Medicine or mindfulness (which is now a secular art and researched by Mark Williams, a fellow at Linacre College, Oxford).

Happy Slayage!

Primeval (Buffy Season 4, Episode 21)

Wow. Even after all these years since I first watched this episode, I still say, ‘Wow’ at its conclusion.

The solution to defeating the Big Bad of Season 4 was simple enough, and Xander gets the credit for coming up with the idea:  The Scooby Gang would pool their talents in such a way that all would be embodied in Buffy’s Slayer-physicality.  Giles would contribute his knowledge of Sumerian (which is not a Semitic language, I might add, and is thus unrelated to either Assyrian or Babylonian), Willow her magic, Buffy her Slayer skills, and Xander binds them all through his empathy.  Together, they are able to call upon the entire linage of Slayers who have existed throughout time.

How could Chinese Medicine possibly accomplish this sort of union?  Well, let’s look at three possibilities.  The first is the Extraordinary meridian pair Yin Wei Mai and Yang Wei Mai.  These meridians are responsible for unifying the flow of all the yin and yang qi of the body.  The character for ‘wei mai’ indicates a pulsing vessel that forms a net used in trapping birds.  So the first potential treatment we could look at is a wei mai treatment (PC-6, TW-5).

Second, I recall using a treatment on one of my first patients which began by needling the yin meridians of the right hand at the jing well points, then moved to the ying points of the yang meridians on the left hand, then the jing-river points of the left leg, and ending with the he-sea/ uniting points of the right leg.  This protocol — I cannot recall whom to credit for it — engages all twelve meridians, bringing them into sync at the he-sea points of the leg.  the sea-points of the leg are intimately tied to the pooling of jing, blood, and the primal qi of the shaoyang which transforms that jing into the qi carried by the blood, uniting them to produce the shen of the body.  The source points of the LU, HT, and PC further this engagement, while the yang energy stored in the ying-spring points of the LI, SI, and TW promotes its movement — SI associated with sovereign fire, LI with the yang of wei qi, and TW with source qi.  The jing-river points of the BL, GB, and ST gather this flow and direct it strongly to the uniting points, adding to the physiology the expression of post-natal qi derived from grains, fluids, and the exterior environment (i.e the reactivity of the back shu points).

The third point for consideration is a Japanese ion-cord treatment protocol (four cords are needed) which also attempts to activate each meridian, but using the 12-hour clock instead.  The needled points are SP6 (black clip), where three yin vessels meet, to a point halfway between PC7 and PC3 (red clip).  TW8 (black clip) to GB35 (red clip) are both sea points.  All points are needled bilaterally.  This treatment protocol, named after the Tai Ji (‘Supreme Ultimate’), is usually used for ‘tired but wired’ presentations, or those in which the entire Dai Mai is reactive along the abdomen.

All this is useful for integrating the meridians of one person.  How can it be used with other people?  Some Japanese researchers tested ion pumping cords by attaching cords from needles placed in old men up to those in young men.  The results were that the old men’s pulses greatly increased.  Sounds vampiric?  Yes — but this makes the idea even more appealing for the Buffyverse.  I would suggest using ion cords to bind all the characters together, perhaps using PC-6 and TW-5 as the primary points…

Herbally, I cannot think of something that would bind several people together, and nothing I have researched seems to indicate that such an idea was ever present among the Han or Tang dynasty Chinese.  However, one herbal formula, called the Trinity of Heaven, seeks to unite heaven, earth, and humanity:  Tian Ma, Di Huang, and Ren Shen.  If Tian Ma is too cold, then perhaps one could substitute Tian Men Dong, although this substitution is my own idea, not one in the tradition.  (Tian Men Dong also happens to be cold, by the way.)  Likewise,  Tong Tian Cao (aka Tong Cao) may make an interesting assistant herb to connect the Earth (Di Huang) and Humanity (Ren Shen) herbs to the Tian Ma, and guide the herbs to the HT via the SI channel.

As always, these posts are for entertainment purposes only.  If you feel the need to be united with your friends in an esoteric manner in order to overcome great evil in your lives, please seek out a qualified professional or source with extensive experience in such matters.

Happy slayage!

Graduation Day, Part One (Buffy, Season Three, Ep 21)

As graduation day, and thus also the Mayor’s Ascension, approaches, the cast of characters are brought into closer and closer proximity.  The stakes are raised when Angel is shot by a poisoned arrow, the only antidote to which is the blood of a slayer.  (Luckily, the Chong Mai was stabilised just last week, so the Sea of Blood that Buffy has at her disposal should be adequately filled…)

Although the particular poison affecting Angel is only cured by blood, other poisonings can and have happened throughout the course of medical history.  In fact, one can argue that the most potent medicines have always been toxins applied in a judicious manner.  Today, potentially toxic substances are still used in Chinese herbal medicine, but through centuries of experience, several methods of preparing the medicines in order to decrease their side effects have been developed.  Not all poisons and toxins are dangerous to the same degree.  Some merely cause mild nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting; others dangerously lower blood pressure, stop breathing, or cause sudden bleeding.  Still others are toxic acutely, while others are dangerous only over the long term.  For these reasons, it is important to have qualified practitioners — rather than governmental restrictions — who know how to properly prepare, formulate, and administer herbal medicines.

This post will treat exactly that topic:  dealing with herbal poisonings.  Please note, these are only immediate remedies for accidental poisonings with herbs like Fu Zi (aconite), and are not designed to replace a call to your local poison control centre.

The most common method of detoxifying herbal ingredients, aside from increasing boiling time, is to mix in fresh ginger juice.  The herbs and fresh ginger are then dry-fried and left to cool.  Fresh ginger (sheng jiang) itself is also often added to formulas during the boiling time, in order to reduce the actively toxic compounds present in some herbs.  Xi Xin (asarum), in particular, is nearly always used in combination with ginger.

Gan Cao, or licorice root, in both its honey-fried and unprepared forms, is another remedy often used for Fu Zi poisoning.  Gan Cao is one of the most commonly used herbs in Chinese medical formulas, and is credited with the property of  ‘harmonising’  the other ingredients in the formula.

Mung beans are one of the most common detoxifying foods, and appear in both Chinese and South Asian (Ayurvedic) dietary medicine.  In Ayurveda, the combination of rice and mung beans, or chikadi, is recommended as a nutritious and detoxifying food.  In Chinese medicine, mung beans (cooked, not raw) are the supreme antidote for Fu Zi poisonings, given even in hospital.

Milk is likewise a common food given to those suspected of poisoning.  It is rarely (if ever) used in Chinese medical formulas, but is part of some tonification programme for cancer patients before they enter chemotherapy in the PRC.  In the past, the milk that would be given was unprocessed and unhomogenised.  I do not know how the addition of other substances (e.g. vitamins) to milk today would affect its properties, although several friends have suspected that processed milk is more to blame for their lactose-intolerance than lactose itself.  (They seem to have little difficulty when drinking raw milk, for example.)

Finally, honey is often added to herbs in the course of their preparation in order to detoxify them.  Gan Cao, Huang Qi, and Sang Ye are the most commonly honey-prepared herbs I can think of, and all of those are fine to consume raw.  As an antidote, honey seems given after ingestion of the poison, or to draw out poisons from the skin.  I personally would use honey as an antidote only in this latter case — as a drawing salve — and try the previous herbs first, if I had no other recourse to treating the poison (e.g. by inducing vomiting, for example).

Water is not mentioned as an antidote to poisonings in classical sources.  Perhaps this is due to the possibility of contamination by water-borne diseases, which would only make the situation worse.  Nonetheless, when clean water is available, flushing the body with fluids can often help the person eliminate the poison from his or her system.

The Nan Jing mentions using acupuncture remedies for herbal mistakes, but I cannot recall those instances; otherwise, there really isn’t much that acupuncture can do for poisonings, to my knowledge.  (Except bee stings — which I would treat as fire-toxins in the blood and use the SI channel to treat.)

Although this post is for theoretical purposes only, please, if you suspect poisoning, contact the appropriate personnel as soon as possible.

Happy Slayage