Did you know that your heart is able to taste? In 2015, a team at the University of Queensland in Australia discovered that there are 12 different types of taste receptors located in the heart. That’s right, nearly half of the 25 types of taste receptors in the human genome that are coded to detect the bitter flavor are not located in your mouth, but are instead present within the heart itself.
The fact that the heart’s taste receptors can only detect the bitter flavor might seem random, but when looked at through the prism of Chinese herbal medicine, this makes complete sense. When practicing Chinese herbal medicine, the combination of tastes (flavors) and nature (energetic temperature) inherently present within an herb dictates its medicinal use.
There are five basic flavors in Chinese medicine– salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and acrid – one for each of the five elements. Each of the five main viscera belongs to a particular element as well. There is water, which governs the Kidneys; Wood, which governs the Liver; Fire, which governs the Heart; Earth, which governs the Spleen; And Metal, which governs the Lungs. Thus, there is a flavor that belongs to each of them that acts as a catalyst of sorts to either build the resources of a particular element, or instigate an energetic movement inherent within each element and viscera to harmonize an unbalanced system.
The Fire element governs the Heart, and the flavor with which it is associated is, yep - you guessed it – bitter! The bitter flavor is particularly useful in clearing heat from the body, as heat is a byproduct of fire. Due to the fact that heat rises, the bitter flavor has a natural counteraction of descending which is useful to eliminate excess heat (often seen as inflammation) from the body. This is often why after someone has their morning coffee they must urinate or move their bowels – the bitter flavor is picked up by the heart itself, inciting a staggeringly elegant cascade of energetic events, which removes heat from the system naturally as the body was designed to!
When someone drinks something bitter, the Heart can literally taste it, which triggers movement within the body. The ancient Chinese knew that the bitter flavor affected the Heart. Even in today’s world we associate bitter with the heart – every Valentine’s day when we buy a box of chocolates (made with bitter cacao) for our sweetie.
Tasting your herbal medicine is essential if you want to achieve the best results. Preparations such as herbal pills and tinctures preserve some of the flavors, but are generally less effective than preparing raw herbs in a decoction (herbal matter boiled in water for an amount of time determined by the herbalist). Classically, Chinese herbal medicine was almost always prepared as a decoction, and still to this day it is the most effective way of extracting the maximum possible constituents for consumption. Through a specific group of individual herbs prescribed by a trained practitioner, the perfect balance of the five flavors can be reached to correct imbalances preventing harmonious relationship of the five elements. When herbs are all boiled together to create a formula, the resulting medicine is a strong tasting, strong acting energetic synthesis. Your taste buds may not like the taste at first, but your heart will love it!
Come in to Alchemy today for your herbal consultation. If you’re worried that you might not have the time to cook a decoction, ask about our medicinal preparation services!
Spring is upon us...
Watch the sprouts and plants of the earth come alive this spring, how life re-emerges from the winter. Notice the young shoots spring up overnight, quickly adapting to life’s obstacles, fulfilling its destiny by becoming the predetermined form embedded in its genetic code. Spring is the time for renewal and growth. According to Chinese philosophy and medicine, this is the season of the liver and gallbladder. These organs are known collectively as the Wood element, or more correctly, the phase of change associated with Wood. This element assures the evolutionary growth and promotion of all species.
Our liver acts like a military general. It is in charge of assessing the situation, making plans and helping us to remain flexible, adjusting to the metaphorical “wind,” or change, in our lives. The gallbladder gives us determination and the ability to make decisions. Spring is the time of making plans and putting them into action, while remaining flexible to blockages. Plants steadily grow, climb and proliferate as a guide for us to emulate in the growth of our lives, despite the barriers put before it.
In Chinese medicine, the emotion of the liver is anger. We can see this when we get frustrated with hurdles and quagmires in our life. What we don’t talk much about is the virtue of spring: benevolence. This virtue is ruled by our internal vision of non-attachment and spontaneity.
Zhuangzi said it best, “The way I see it, the rules of benevolence and righteousness and the paths of right and wrong are all hopelessly snarled and jumbled. How could I know anything about such discrimination...when virtue embraces all things, we have benevolence.”
Our vision of ourselves and our world can be clouded or overstimulated with choices. The virtue of benevolence is captured by the blending of duality into a harmonious whole. This resolution requires the forgiveness of ourselves and others, releasing all judgements about what is right and wrong, and accepting the actions of others as the best that was available at that time.
Impact of the Wood Elements on Qi & Blood
Our liver is in charge of the smooth flow of qi. When we come against resistance in life, our Wood element must get involved to make plans to continue our path of growth. When we face an obstacle, the flow of qi is disrupted and can affect the digestion, emotional state, and the flow of bile from the gallbladder. Our liver also controls the storing of blood and regulates the volume of blood. In Chinese medicine, we believe our emotions are carried in our blood. When qi becomes constrained, our blood volume can become diminished causing our emotions to become unstable. Notice in times of stress, when liver qi is impacted, how the digestion and/or emotional state is altered. Interestingly, the character for constraint, is the characters for tree inside a box.
The gallbladder releases bile into the small intestine to break down fats into useable energy for our bodies. When we have trouble releasing bile to digest these fats we may also have trouble “digesting” the obstacles in our lives. Our decision making may become muddled and confused to what our true path may be. When there is this problem, beware of absolute, hyperbolic, or one-sided thinking. Remain flexible, see all sides, options, and possibilities before setting your best course of action.
The wood elements direction of movement is up and out. Spring is an opportune time to use this energetics to clear away unwanted skin conditions. Call us today to begin your work on your dermatological distress.
It is time to clean our homes but also our bodies. We accumulate the physical and emotional residue of our lives over the last year. The edible plants coming alive around us are a great way to rid the toxins accrued. Spinach, dandelion, and leafy greens are some foods we can eat to support and clean us out.
Our Wood element creates and supports our eyes. It gives us perspective and vision for our life’s path. Our external world-view and our internal self awareness. Have benevolence for yourself and keep the emotion of the liver, anger, in check.
The ancient sages saw the natural world as a macrocosmic reflection of the subtle workings of the inner energy body. In fact, Chinese medical philosophy evolved out of the practice of observing nature, and simply noticing the metaphorical patterns that would repeatedly arise within it. Of these metaphorical patterns, the one that’s been most fundamental to how Chinese medicine is understood and practiced is Yin-Yang theory.
Yin and yang can be thought of as two stages in a cyclical movement, where each part contains an aspect of the other within itself. For example, daytime is described as a yang phenomenon, but once it reaches its peak at midday, the yin that resides within the yang begins to emerge giving birth to nighttime, a yin phenomenon. The same pattern emerges when we observe the changes in the seasons. Approaching the Winter Solstice, the days get shorter and darker, and it appears as if everything in nature is slowing down, culminating almost to a pause. In this context, the winter solstice can be thought of as a time of maximum yin, where we preserve all that we’ve accumulated, so that we have the resources to get through the coldest time of the year. In 5-element theory, the wintertime is associated with the water element, and this relationship between winter and preservation is evident in the way that water freezes, the same way we freeze food to preserve it.
The pattern of qi flow through the human body during the winter mimics this pattern of preservation in nature. In the winter, our qi will naturally flow within the deepest levels of the body to contain itself. If we rest and use this time to restore ourselves by taking life slowly, we will manifest in the spring (a time of the growth of yang within yin) with a renewed potential. This idea is illustrated in Chapter 2 of the Su Wen. “In winter all is hidden, this is the season of retirement into the depth, because it is cold outside. It is necessary at this moment not to disturb or disperse the yang energy, thus complying with the energy of the Winter.”
Not surprisingly, it seems that this practice of pausing, or non-action, is very hard for us to do. As modern people, we are very attracted to our yang manifestations: of expansion, growth, generation, and advancement. It seems we’d rather go against the flow of natural phenomena, and use all of our energy to fulfill the many social obligations culturally associated with this time of year, then allow ourselves the opportunity to dive into the hibernation of winter, and sit within the void of that stillness.
Here is where I’d like to suggest that being with that void of stillness, even for just a few moments each day, is in fact the greatest thing we could do to insure our energetic reserves will be able to support our activities and growth later on. The paradox of growth, change and evolution, is that it will not happen – at least not in the most energetically efficient way – until we can let go and accept all that we are in this moment. That means accepting the yin qualities associated with the wintertime, lightening up on our expectations and agendas, and nourishing and restoring in stillness.
It can be argued that even the ancients preferred the yang qualities, by associating them with heaven and spirit, and designating yin with earth and man in material form. However, I think where we limit ourselves is by creating any differentiation between the two. Maybe heaven is on earth, we just haven’t cultivated the conditions to be able to perceive it that way, because we are not willing to sit within the stillness long enough to recognize that the seed of yang is within the yin itself.
So this winter explore whether you have a subtle preference for the manifestations of yang. Then see whether you can stay with the energy of yin long enough to recognize the seed of yang within it. This is where your greatest potential lives. In that moment of sacred stillness, you may recognize how radically powerful you are when you simply allow yourself to rest into that empty space of non-action.
There are a variety of meditation techniques that help to relax the sympathetic nervous system and create an experience of open spaciousness in the mind and heart. In Chinese medicine terminology we can physiologically translate the sensation of what we are trying to accomplish with these kinds of meditation practices as an opening or clearing of the sensory orifices. In doing this, we can directly see, hear, smell, taste, feel, or cognize phenomena in a way that is less obstructed. When our sensory orifices are open and clear, the signal to noise ratio of direct phenomenological experience is coming in with greater signal and less noise. This can directly translate to feeling more awake or alive in our body. In Chinese medicine we use herbs that are light and aromatic to help facilitate this state of being.
A personal favorite meditation technique is to practice experiencing sensory phenomena (sights, sounds, tactile sensations, thoughts, smells, and tastes) moment by moment as they arise in conscious awareness, specifically after drinking Shi Chang Pu, an aromatic Chinese herb that helps to open the sensory orifices. The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic describes Shi Chang Pu as: acrid and warm. It opens the heart portals, supplements the five viscera, frees the nine orifices, brightens the eyes and [sharpens] the hearing, and [helps] the articulation of the voice. Protracted taking may make the body light, improve memory, prevent confusion, and prolong life.
In nature during the darker months, we see that trees are consolidating their essence into their center and into the roots. They do this to restore and protect their resources for the growth spurt they will experience in Spring. Just as we see water constricting and freezing all around us, we may notice ourselves with less energy. A large number of us may be experiencing the emotional predisposition to go inward which is normal during this time of year, others feel that the shift inward is too exaggerated... our water element may be out of balance. Here are some winter tips!
Be kind to your Kidneys
The organ system associated with Water and winter is Kidney.
Physical symptoms that are related to the Kidneys—and hence, tend to be more common in winter—include low back pain, knee pain, hearing impairment, painful or difficult urination, teeth and gum problems, erectile dysfunction and infertility.
In acupuncture theory, the Kidneys are considered the most vital source of energy, the root of all else. When the Kidney system is out of whack or depleted, it can wreak havoc on any other system throughout the body, and vice versa. All roads somehow connect to Kidneys.
This means we have to be especially careful in winter. By nature, it’s a time for rest and restoration. When we ignore that by continuing about our go-go-go lifestyles, the consequences are more damaging than they might be during times of year that are more conducive to activity. In winter, our Kidneys are more likely to get zapped. Be gentle. Don’t push yourself to exhaustion, this will only rob you of your vital energy and will become obvious in the spring when the Wood (Spring) energy starts to rise (Acutake.com)
Foods that are kind to your Kidneys
Some foods and spices that are great to add to your diet during this time of the year are:
-Black Sesame Seeds -Bok Choy
-Sesame Oil -Daikon Radish
-Goji Berries -Cinnamon
We have all experienced that moment..."Ugh, I'm not feeling well. I think I'm coming down with something." This is the moment when we (1) Make a stop at the pharmacy for an over-the-counter remedy (2) Call our local physician and ask for a prescription, or (3) Call in sick and get some rest. However, many people don't know that this is a perfect time to get Acupuncture. The moment you feel like you're coming down with something, call and make an appointment at Alchemy. Acupuncture can not only halt same day cold symptoms, it also excels as preventative medicine, strengthening the immune system even when you're exposed to sneezing co- workers and family members. Acupuncture does this by strengthening your bodies natural defense system, giving you the ability to fend off any seasonal ailment. Call or stop by Alchemy for more information regarding Acupuncture and its immune boosting benefits!
By: Laura Marion
Stress Reduction: Stress wreaks havoc in all areas of our lives, not sparing the immune system. Chronic stress has been shown to dramatically decrease our bodies ability to fend off diseases. Acupuncture excels at combatting emotional and mental stress by increasing the feel-good hormones in your body, such as serotonin. Alchemy is ready to assist you with personalized Acupuncture treatments designed to help you feel more at peace. We can also show you methods that can help to reduce your response to stressors in your life.