Insomnia is often not used to refer to a disease or condition, but rather a symptom of several sleep disorders. According to Western medicine, there are two types of insomnia, primary and secondary. Primary insomnia is not directly related to any other health problems whereas secondary insomnia is difficulty sleeping due to another issue such as asthma, pain, arthritis, cancer, depression or due to a side effect of a medication.
Common symptoms associated with insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking too early in the morning and feeling tired upon waking. Insomnia is also categorized based on the duration of the symptoms.
Episodes of insomnia may occur naturally from time to time, but when the condition continues for some time it can become pathological and sets off a whole cascade of events. Acute insomnia is short term and may last for a few nights to several weeks. Chronic insomnia is defined as having symptoms at least three nights per week for one month.
How Is Insomnia Treated with Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Chinese medicine and acupuncture have been used to treat insomnia for thousands of years. TCM recognizes the proper flow of Qi of the body to be influential in healthy sleep. We look at the underlying issues causing sleep disturbances such as pain, stress and anxiety or night sweats and work to eliminate these issues.
An ancient Chinese physician, Zhang Jing-Yue, wrote: “Sleep is yin and ruled by the spirit. If the spirit is quiet there will be sleep. If the spirit is not quiet there is no sleep.” TCM theory begins with the theory of yin yang. Most basically, Yang is associated with day, activity and wakeful hours. Yin is associated with night, stillness and sleep. The spirit, or ‘Shen’ in Chinese, is a combination of the heart and mind; the two are inseparable in Chinese medicine.
Insomnia, often associated with disturbances of the psyche, will affect the state of the heart. The spirit is quiet when anchored by the yin. When the yin is deficient, or the yang energy overactive, the spirit has nowhere to rest. Yin is the energy responsible for night time and sleep and if our bodies are depleted in yin energy we experience insomnia, often with night sweats and a host of other symptoms. With the TCM treatment of insomnia, there is also a strong focus on the health of the kidneys and the balance of the fluids of the body.
Practitioners of Chinese Medicine treat insomnia by taking into consideration your overall balance of mind, body, and spirit. The condition may be treated using acupuncture, herbal remedies, diet and lifestyle changes, and relaxation techniques. Treatment will be highly individualized and will depend on the underlying cause of the insomnia, which will be differentiated by your practitioner. A proper diagnosis is key to successfully treating insomnia, which may be caused by a number of factors including physical strain, mental and emotional stress, or improper diet. All these things must be examined in the patient’s life and adjusted to increase their state of balance. This will be different for each person and tailored to fit their specific needs. Patients with insomnia often have deeply relaxing treatments and fall asleep during their sessions.
Western science has recognized acupuncture's effects on insomnia and attributes it to the natural release of melatonin and dopamine with acupuncture. Read an article about curing insomnia with acupuncture here: http://www.bulletproofexec.com/how-to-cure-insomnia-with-acupuncture/.
If you are suffering from insomnia you can start by working to eliminate stress and worry from your life. Acupuncture can help you begin to do this by identifying factors that trigger these emotions and take steps to reduce these triggers. Chinese medicine practitioners can also help you manage and reduce your emotional stress and reduce your dependence on sleeping pills or stimulants like smoking, alcohol, coffee or tea, all of which can affect your sleeping patterns. A bit of physical activity each day will help further reduce stress and regulate the flow of blood throughout the body. Practices such as taiji, qigong, and meditation can also help to calm the mind.
For a complete consultation, individual diagnosis and treatment for insomnia, visit our request an appointment page to schedule with a licensed practitioner.
The theory of the natural elements is an enduring philosophy across cultures, appearing in separate countries in vastly different eras around the world.
The ancient Greeks used the five elements of earth, water, air, fire, and “aether” (quintessence/spirit) as a guiding principal to better understand the universe. Both ancient Egyptians and Buddhists understood the elements as fire, water, air, and earth. Hinduism utilizes the five elements (earth, water, fire, wind, and “aether”) as well. In fact, the seven chakras pair with Hindu and Buddhist five element theory. Western astrology also makes use of the four classical elements in astrological charting.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Five Element theory (also called Wu Xing) is a powerful, foundational lens through which medicine, our bodies, and the world at large can be viewed. Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood are understood to be the Five Elements in TCM.
Each element is awarded a number of characteristics and correspondences. They all have their separate natures, movements, directions, sounds, times of the day, and much more. Similar to Yin Yang theory, many specific aspects of life and the world can be attributed to a certain element.
In addition to these basic qualities, the elements also correspond with certain internal organs, tastes, emotions, and sense organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine—a very important feature of the theory with great implications to the medicinal practice.
Below are the Five Elements and their commonly discussed and widely held attributes.
- Season: Summer
- Direction: South
- Color: Red
- Environment: Hot
- Taste: Bitter
- Emotion: Joy
- Organs: Heart; Small Intestine
- Sense Organ: Tongue
- Bodily Tissue: Blood vessel
- Season: Late summer
- Direction: Center/Middle
- Color: Yellow
- Environment: Damp
- Taste: Sweet
- Emotion: Worry
- Organs: Spleen; Stomach
- Sense Organ: Mouth
- Bodily Tissue: Muscles
- Season: Fall
- Direction: West
- Color: White
- Environment: Dry
- Taste: Pungent
- Emotion: Grief
- Organs: Lung; Large Intestine
- Sense Organ: Nose
- Bodily Tissue: Body hair
- Season: Winter
- Direction: North
- Color: Black
- Environment: Cold
- Taste: Salty
- Emotion: Fear
- Organs: Kidneys; Urinary Bladder
- Sense Organ: Ear
- Bodily Tissue: Bone
- Season: Spring
- Direction: East
- Color: Green
- Environment: Windy
- Taste: Sour
- Emotion: Anger
- Organs: Liver; Gallbladder
- Sense Organ: Eye
- Bodily Tissue: Tendons
In TCM, the Five Elements are dynamic: they create, control, and constantly interact with each other. Each element is said to generate—give rise—to another element. This generating sequence is a type of “mother-son” relationship, where the parent gives life to and nurtures the child. In Five Element theory, Fire generates Earth. Earth generates Metal. Metal generates Water. Water generates Wood. Wood generates Fire. One jumping off point for remembering this sequence is to think of how rubbing twigs (ie: wood) together can create fire.
Additionally, each element controls and is controlled by another element, creating a system of checks and balances. Ideally, this system guarantees that one element will not over-dominate another element for any lengthy period of time. The controlling sequence is as follows: Fire controls Metal. Metal controls Wood. Wood controls Earth. Earth controls Water. Water controls Fire. An easy way to begin memorizing the controlling relationships is to think of how water can easily douse—control—fire.
Disturbances in these natural generating and controlling orders give rise to pathological symptoms. For instance, if the Wood element is too excessive in the body it may begin “over-controlling” the Earth element. This is a common pathology in clinical practice. One way it can be used is to understand why feeling excessively angry (Wood’s emotion) can give one a stomachache (the Stomach is one of Earth’s organs).
These symptoms are intricately analyzed in AOMA’s didactic classes and utilized to great effect in clinical settings. Even without going into the depth required in Chinese medicine school, however, Five Element theory can provide structure to our daily lives, an understanding of the interconnectedness of our planet, and a richer appreciation of our bodies. Put simply, the Five Elements can be seen as a natural law of the universe.
About the author: Carly Willsie enjoys putting Yin Yang theory into practice as an acupuncture school student and tutor. Carly grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York and has a background in journalism and publishing.
The introductory tenets of Yin and Yang are among the first subjects AOMA students learn in Chinese medicine school. The theory is one of the foundational principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and its elegant wisdom guides students throughout their years at AOMA and acupuncture school.
When we hear the phrase “Yin and Yang” many of us may first think of the Yin Yang symbol so ubiquitous on key chains, college posters, childhood doodles, and t-shirts throughout the country. The theory of Yin and Yang is much more profound than an image on an old t-shirt may lead you to first believe, however. This ever-present symbol is called the Taijitu. It’s the universal symbol for the theory of Yin and Yang and of Taoism.
Yin and Yang can initially be understood as darkness and light. Yin (the black part of the Taijitu) is the “shady side of the mountain,” while Yang (the white portion of the Taijitu) is classically referred to as the “sunny side.” From here, we can attribute many characteristics to either a Yin category or a Yang category. Some of the more common examples of Yin and Yang include:
- Fall and Winter
- North and West
- Lower part of the body
- Front of the body
- Spring and Summer
- South and East
- Upper part of the body
- Back of the body
Yin and Yang
Though Yin and Yang can be understood individually, they cannot exist separately. They might seem like opposites—and do typically represent two different sides of one coin—but their properties are actually complementary and dependent on one another.
This indivisibility is a central aspect of Yin and Yang. Without Yin, Yang cannot exist. Without Yang, Yin is not present. Yin and Yang are inseparable; just as we cannot have only sunny days throughout the year, we will not only have cloudy either.
Another important element in Yin Yang theory is the concept that Yin and Yang can change into one another. Clouds can give way to sun in the same way that Yin can be transformed into Yang. Within Yin, the seed of Yang exists; within Yang, Yin is always present. This dynamic balance between Yin and Yang is represented in the Taijitu symbol by the small circle of opposite color within each half.
As a consequence of this nature, Yin and Yang can be divided infinitely. For instance, we might say that a cloudy day is Yin while a sunny day is Yang. However, we can divide the cloudy day into Yin parts (the nighttime of the cloudy day, as an example) and Yang parts (the morning of the cloudy day). We can then further divide the Yang (morning) part of the cloudy day into Yin and Yang, and so on.
Yin and Yang is a theoretical way to understand the natural dualities present in our world, our relationships, and within ourselves. The simple wisdom gained through an understanding of Yin and Yang enriches our lives and constantly reveals itself in our medicine and personal experiences.
Applying the theory of Yin and Yang to our everyday living is simple and rewarding. Recognizing the natural ebb and flow of our world will allow you a comfort in your current circumstances and in your future, while providing an illuminating viewpoint from which to see our Yin and Yang world.
About the author:Carly Willsie enjoys putting Yin Yang theory into practice as an acupuncture school student and tutor. Carly grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York and has a background in journalism and publishing.