From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, Grand Master Nan Lu, OMD discusses Functional Medicine in the first of a series of articles on its meaning and application.
The most precious relationship in life is the one we have with our body. It possesses a healing intelligence. The body’s first lesson is to teach us how to enjoy life by living in the moment. Our lungs can’t breathe the air from yesterday. Our hearts can’t wait until tomorrow to beat. And our body teaches us about health.
The study of Functional Chinese Medicine is guided by a deep knowledge of the human body and its multidimensional systems, in particular, its organ function system. Set aside the organ’s physical makeup and processes. Focus on its Consciousness and how it works with, relates to, and communicates with the body, the mind, and surroundings. Understanding what an organ is capable of doing will create opportunities for it to function at its highest potential.
Using a unique framework, a practitioner seeks to understand the patient and the nature of an imbalance within the body’s organ function system. Information is vital. A person is always changing, which affects his or her organ function potential. Diagnosis and treatment evolve from the patient’s answers to simple queries: who you are, what you are, how you are, where you are, and when you are.
Organ function is like a person. For example, a woman functions differently depending on the setting and her position. At work, she is a CEO running a company. At home, she is a wife helping her spouse. In her own family, she is a doting daughter or a guiding older sister. To function at her best means meeting requirements that are specific to time and location, her role, the action to be taken, and a successful outcome. At work, she can’t use her position to read her colleagues a bedtime story.
Most of the time, only the physical aspects of our bodies grab our attention. Too tired, drink a latte. Too flabby, go to the gym. High cholesterol, take a pill. Yet our bodies have a Consciousness and speak to us in an eloquent language. When we feel unwell, pay attention to more than what is on the surface. We are being told what’s wrong, why, and how to fix it.
This discussion can begin with a whisper, a simple ache the cause of which tests can’t detect. If the body’s message about dysfunction is ignored, a whisper grows into a shout through a visible condition reflecting your life and how you live it.
A key concept in Functional Medicine is seeing illness as something you create to recognize the changes you need to make in your life. Illness and disease aren’t isolated events, unconnected to your body, mind, or spirit. You create your own reality, health, and illness. In the circle of health and illness, everything has a purpose and a Consciousness. Illness becomes a gateway to self-discovery and spiritual transformation. Health represents harmony between you and the Universe.
Using a Framework Based on Health Consciousness
The underlying principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine are based on ancient wisdom and supported by modern science. In Quantum science, everything is energy existing in a unified field of dynamic interrelated patterns. Energy and mass are interchangeable, as expressed by Einstein’s formula, E = mc2.
These concepts are similar to Qi, or Universal life force, and Oneness, where everything is related and woven together into a seamless whole. Qi and Oneness became known to Chinese masters thousands of years ago. They learned about the existence of immutable natural laws and more.
They saw the body’s functions and connections to the major elements, or energy frequencies, of the planet—Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The Five Element Consciousness Framework depicts how you and your body reflect and interact with Nature and the Universe. Everything is connected.
This framework allows us to discover the many forms of Consciousness that use wellness and disease for deeper purposes. Each of the Five Elements matches the energetic frequency of a major organ and its partner organ as well as powerful energy channels called meridians.
Each organ must work with the meridians and connect with Qi. Each organ also has a Consciousness level and an energetic level unknown to science. Each organ system, with its set of requirements for healthy function, interrelates with others to form an information network the body uses for sustaining health and signaling trouble.
Good health depends on smooth organ function arising from the free and balanced flow of energy along meridians throughout the body. This flow can be disrupted by how we react to things like stress, events, negative emotions, and relationships.
If you won’t let go of anger from a divorce, you will confront how you handle anger by developing a Liver function disorder. You may get migraine headaches on the left side of your head, but tests reveal nothing.
The Liver and Its Functions
The Liver’s frequency matches Wood. Like Wood, the Liver is capable of flexibility and letting go to function at its highest level. In Nature, if a tree isn’t flexible and doesn’t bend, it will break in a strong wind. To allow new growth in the Spring, the tree lets go of its leaves in the Fall. The smooth flow of Blood, Qi, and emotional energy is the responsibility of the Liver. It promotes emotional stability and is the organ most affected by excess stress and emotional overload.
Each Element expresses other energy patterns and attributes of Nature in addition to an organ and its partner organ. They include a season, direction, body tissue, emotion, taste, color, sound, and time of day.
The eyes are the sensory organ related to the Liver. Blurry vision or itchy eyes can be a sign that your Liver isn’t functioning smoothly. The taste that supports the Liver is sour. If you crave sour foods, your Liver may be saying it needs an extra boost from eating grapefruit, ginger, or fennel, for example.
Anger is the emotion associated with the Liver. If you are often irritable, easily angered, or have trouble unwinding or letting go of troubling thoughts, emotions, or events, you are experiencing a Liver function problem. If ongoing or excessive, your negative emotions can lead to a greater imbalance within the body and manifest at the material level as an illness or disease.
Common Liver Function Disorders
In the Five Element Framework, everything is connected, and there are no accidents. Something else always happens first. Every physical issue starts as an energetic or function issue, but we don’t pay attention to it. Each physical condition is associated with different levels of function disorder.
The number one organ involved in most conditions is the Liver. Thanks to its flexible capability, it’s also the fastest to change and produce results. Sports injuries, acid reflux, hypertension, and menstrual issues are commonly seen when the Liver isn’t flexible and can’t carry out its own responsibilities or work well with other organs.
A patient loves to play tennis yet is plagued by sprains and tennis elbow from “playing too hard,” but in reality the Liver function is compromised. The tendon is the tissue of the Liver and connects muscle to bone. It enables movement. Injury means the patient isn’t flexible enough because he or she may be suppressing emotions.
Illness also stems from how the Liver interacts with other organ systems. Acid reflux is associated with the relationship between the Liver and Stomach, and the cooperation needed for the digestive process to work. The Stomach digests everything it takes in—food, emotions, and information.
If the energy of anger coming from the Liver is too much for the Stomach to absorb, it sends that energy up and out. Antacids and proton-pump inhibitors treat symptoms, but often without lasting success. They focus on the effect—acid moving up into the esophagus—because it looks like a cause.
Hypertension can go undetected for years. For many adults, no cause can be found, yet blood pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated. High blood pressure is evidence at the material level that Qi and Blood as well as emotions aren’t flowing smoothly because of an excess of emotions. Is the patient overworked? Caring for a sick parent? Having trouble at home?
Although medication may control hypertension, it may not suppress it for long. When life becomes even more stressful, blood pressure may rise, even cause a stroke. Deep down the patient may feel responsible for fixing everything or sees happiness and enjoyment as unattainable.
Most women consider menstrual cramps to be a normal part of their lives. It isn’t. It is a Liver function disorder. Tests may show the Liver has no problem on a physical level. On a functional level, the Liver isn’t doing its jobs of helping Blood flow. For thousands of years, Chinese Medicine has successfully treated women’s health issues.
Restoring Balance and Harmony
Rebalancing emotional energies associated with the Liver means finding the root cause of the imbalance and restoring the harmony of body, mind, and spirit.
Chinese Medicine follows rules that operate on the invisible level, not the physical level, because function disorders arise from different degrees of energetic distress. For example, Liver function problems can’t be treated for real unless you allow yourself to let go of hurtful memories you’ve held onto for years. You can’t step into the same river twice. It flows and changes.
Function is capability with potential, but greater potential is hidden at the unseen Qi and Consciousness levels. If an organ needs to increase its potential to address a function disorder, it must upgrade its Consciousness like you might need to upgrade your software to tackle a difficult assignment.
Illness is more than a physical condition. It’s an opportunity for spiritual development. Another way to increase Consciousness is through mind-body practices. Studies show that meditation and Qigong can lower stress, reduce inflammation, and promote physical and emotional wellness, yet how this happens is unknown.
True healing requires changing your beliefs and lifestyle. No one can do this for you. But just as the body needs strong interrelationships and support to function well, so do you. Simple tips can help. A good prescription for Liver is, engage in gentle exercise, such as swimming or walking, instead of hard and fast exercises that overwork the tendons and eventually cause them to lose their flexibility.
To better comprehend the invisible levels of your body’s systems, look at what you often have in the palm of your hand.
Your smartphone is a personal computer (your body) with a high-level operating system (Qi and Consciousness), integrated network connections for communication (meridians), and the ability to run a variety of software apps with different functions (organ systems). Software updates fix bugs and add more functionality (changing your beliefs, having faith in the body’s healing intelligence, and seeing how everything is connected).
To continue your exploration of the unique concepts of Functional Medicine from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, visit www.tcmworld.org and consider attending our integrative conference on Health Consciousness, October 11-14, in Reston, Va. 28 CMEs and 28 PDAs available.