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Acupuncture Today – December, 2014, Vol. 15, Issue 12

Following the Thinking of the Classics

By Martha Lucas, PhD, LAc

I have heard about the "best time of day" to carry out certain examinations or therapies. For example, I remember making a note years ago that early morning is the best time to take someone's pulses.

Naturally, I take pulses all day not only in the morning so I decided to remind myself what the classics say about time of day.

My notes say that, according to the Nei Jing, morning is the best time to take pulses because "the breath of yin has not yet begun to diffuse, when food and drink have not yet been taken, when the twelve channels are not yet abundant, and when vigor and energy are not yet begun." Then, after we have established the imbalance, it is advised to check on the pulses at the time of the peak activity of the affected organs according to their time on the Chinese organ clock. Further, there is some indication that it is important to take the pulses of patients who are considered "complicated" cases several times a day and possibly even when they are sleeping. This would make treatment in the modern clinic hard to coordinate.

I wonder what my practice would look like if I followed the Laws of Nature according to the Nei Jing:

"All the laws of acupuncture must attend upon the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, and the four seasons. These are the eight factors of the atmospheres and when the atmosphere is established one can apply acupuncture."

Warm weather: "when the weather is warm and the sun clear and bright, the blood of man flows gently and his secretions protect his breath (vigor) and keep it volatile. Hence the blood flows easily and the breath move smoothly."

Cold weather: "when the weather is cold and the sun is darkened, man's blood coagulates and does not flow and his hitherto protected breath sinks low and perishes."

Moon cycles: "when the moon begins to wax, then blood and breath come to life, essence receives new incentive and guard the breath of life which begins to activate. When the moon is full to the rim there is abundance of blood and breath, the muscles and the flesh are firm and strong. When the moon is empty to the rim the muscles and the flesh become reduced, the arteries and veins become empty, and the hitherto guarded breath departs, leaving the body in a deserted condition."

Seasons: "Therefore one should act in accordance with the weather and the seasons in order to have blood and breath thoroughly adjusted and harmonized and consequently when the weather is cold one should not apply acupuncture. But when the day is warm there should not be any hesitation about the advisability of acupuncture."

During classes about theory and the history of TCM I thought about the harm that can be done if acupuncture is given during the wrong time. But how can one take into account all the factors of the atmosphere before implementing treatment? What about climates where it is always hot (yang) or always cold (yin)? Here is probably where needling techniques and the use of other therapies like moxa, herbal prescriptions, and dietary/nutritional advice have an important place. The times to do draining techniques are "when the moon is full, the day is warm, the body is in an orderly state ... and when the breath is being inhaled." All of this is to bring yin and yang into balance.

People who live in a yang environment should eat more yin foods and vice versa. One commonsense way of thinking in TCM terms is to pay attention to the five flavors at every meal. "....mix the flavors well and bones will remain straight, muscles will remain tender and young, breath and blood will circulate freely, pores will be fine in texture and consequently breath and bones will be filled with the essence of life. If the people carefully follow the right way as though it were a law, theirs will be a long life." In theory, the body will attempt to regulate itself according to the flavor ingested because that flavor will affect its associated organ system. It's a diagnostic tool too; when patients crave sweets we can see that their digestion is out of balance. It "needs" the sweet flavor to help tonify it. (Unfortunately many people use the sweet craving as a reason to overeat sugary foods.) This way of eating, following the flavors, is a good example of how to use the principles of Chinese medicine as preventive rather than palliative care – its basic tenet. Every person can manipulate his or her life force with food and self-care activities like meditation. We can manipulate that energy with needles, herbal prescriptions, moxa, manual therapy and other of our medicine's modalities.

Note: my source seems to be one of the courses I took in my basic TCM academic training. I made the notations probably thinking that I would always remember the exact source. As of this writing, the "source" is my notebook from a theory course.

Click here for previous articles by Martha Lucas, PhD, LAc.

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