Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Massage: Pleasure & Pain

I took a real interest in massage when
I was about 12. My mom and I would
trade massages every evening. It was
a good deal that continued through
high school. When I graduated, my
seven-year old sister gave me a gift
certificate drawn in crayon, good for
one head rub.

In college, a girl in the dorms showed
me how to massage a hand. She said,
"doesn't that feel good when I work
all your fingers ?" She was right. So
began my exploration. I learned about
craniosacral massage from the radio;
a DJ talked about how effective it
is to gently massage the head using
only the weight of a nickel. Of course,
like all the techniques I list here, it
takes real training and know-how.

A couple years after college, I received
my first professional massage. I shocked
my masseuse when she walked in and
found me laying face down, naked, but
not under the sheet. I thought that's what
she told me to do. Oops. She later told me,
"your globes were smiling at me."

I started getting massage on a regular
basis. I recall my first Russian trigger
point massage. It's effective but just too
painful for me. I go to relax.

In Kansas City, a Chinese woman gave
me shiatsu with a towel. I loved it,
except she worked vigorously on my
stomach, which made me sick. When she
later omitted the visceral work, it was one
of the best I've ever had.

Not long after that, I was in Vegas for
my sister's wedding. I played three dollars
in a slot machine and won three hundred.
At the mall, I paid for a "water massage."
I laid down in something that looked like
a tanning bed, and received high-pressure
streams of water behind a rubber sheet.
It was so good that when I go to indoor
pools, I like to lay under the kiddie water
fall and let it pound on my back.

In 2002, I went to Thailand for almost a
month. On the second day, I learned that
a two-hour massage was a mere seven
dollars. I decided that was something I would
do every day. On the third day, my masseuse
asked if I wanted Thai massage. I gave it
a try. Turns out, it's like chiropractic
"cracking" for your whole body. She even
cracked my knees ! Although it's kind of
scary the first time, it does make you feel
really good--
except the time a little Thai girl bruised
my sternum. Okay, that's my warning.

I learned about Rolfing, but could never
bring myself to get it. Rolfing utilizes
strong manipulation to re-structure joints
and "properly" align the skeleton for
more efficient movement. Everyone I've
talked to said it's awesome, but awesomely
painful. Hmm. Not for me.

My mom became a Reiki Master, and gave
me a treatment or two. It's amazing how
well it works, considering she didn't even
touch me.

My favorite masseuse is named Mary and
she lives in Utah. Mary not only reads me
to know that I'm relaxed (because if it
hurts, you're not relaxed... Harriet--); but
Mary does lymph drainage therapy. Man
that's cool stuff. Mary can drain the lymph
nodes around my ankle, which takes down
any swelling and makes if feel awesome.

I had another massage in Northern Michigan
where the masseuse asked me if I wanted
biofeedback. I said, "sure, I'll try it." She
moved one finger around until it hit a tender
spot, let's say on my shoulder blade; when
I alerted her to it, she'd hold that spot and
start moving another finger around, let's say
my hip. When she hit another tender spot, she
would hold both, have me breath in deeply
and breath out. When she removed both
fingers, neither spot was tender. I thought
that was pretty cool too.

Which brings me to Tui Na. Chinese
Tui Na massage involves a whole range
of techniques such as reflexology of the
ears, hands and feet; all the way to the
chiropractic-like manipulation of Thai
massage. This blog was supposed to be
about Tui Na as the fourth branch of
Traditional Chinese Medicine--
but I felt it would be better to share all
that I've learned about the amazing
massage arts.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chinese Herbs: Nutrition From Outer Space

Back in the days when I was a body-
builder, I thought about nutrition as
if my body were a race car or something
like that. My muscles were like the engine,
and they needed high-quality fuel to
move me around. I needed protein and
vitamins to repair broken-down parts.
I stayed away from sugar because it
just made me too heavy. I thought I was
doing a pretty good job because
"I looked good."

Chinese nutrition is far more complex
than that. Every food my teacher puts
into his mouth has some medicinal
benefit. Green onion for this and ginger
for that and squash does this and broccoli
does that. Always onion "for your health."

Americans eat what tastes good.
Chinese eat for their health.

I see some pretty weird stuff when
I'm with him. "Chicken feet is good
for your skin; eat it." The last time
I saw him, sifu had boiled eggs in
a strange mixture of herbs and let them
sit for days, turning the eggshells
a strange green color. When I asked--
his girlfriend said they were "female
herbs eggs," meaning for menstruation.

I was way over my head to write a blog
about Chinese herbs, so I called my
friend Holly Sparks in Tuscon to help me.
Holly says that what's first important is
that Chinese herbs are taken to correct
syndromes instead of symptoms. Women
in the west with hot flashes might take
black cohosh to help with that symptom.
But Holly says menopause is the syndrome
that requires a delicate balance of herbs,
carefully measured out for potency.

Typically, a Chinese doctor will assess a
patient by listening to three organs on each
wrist (sort of like taking a pulse); checking
the tongue, smelling the patient, and asking
questions about their temperature, cravings,
and lifestyle.

Cravings for salt have to do with the kidney.
Sour has to do with the liver; sweet has to
do with the spleen (or pancreas); bitter has
to do with the heart; and I've never heard of
a craving for metallic food, but those have to
do with the lungs.

Ginseng is one of the great power-herbs of the
earth. Westerners consider the carrot to be very
nutritious, and yet it only grows in temperate
climates with good soil and lots of water. On the
other hand, ginseng grows on the side of snowy
mountain and can take years to fully mature.
A comparative, randomized, double-blind study
at the National Autonomous University of Mexico
indicates it may be "a promising dietary supplement"
when assessed for an increase in quality of life.
But there are some different kinds of ginseng,
some of which can be dangerous. Holly says
the Red Panax ginseng is a "hot herb" specifically
for men, and probably to be taken in the winter.

Holly says JuHua (Yellow Chrysanthemum)
calms the liver, and helps sooth stress. HeShouWu
(Polygonum) works on the kidneys, and can
do things like prevent hair from turning gray.
Cordyceps is a fungus related to insect larvae that
offers great tonic for the lungs; it was virtually
unknown in the west until three Chinese athletes
broke five world track records in 1993 because
they were taking Cordyceps, not steroids.

You can consult your local Chinese doctor about
herbs and start learning about them online.
You can contact Holly in Tuscon at:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Acupuncture: Quit Crying and Try It...Twice

Around 1997, my mom came to visit me
in Denver. We both hated needles to
the Nth degree, but were curious about
acupuncture as "alternative medicine."
My first argument for both of us was that
it's incomparably older than any medicine
in the west. So we found an old Chinese
guy who said he was brought to the U.S
by Nixon himself and decided to give it a try.

I told him I was having neck and shoulder
pain; I think my mom was having headaches.
He took us into separate rooms, and asked
us to lay down. He was extremely gentle,
which I have found of all acupuncturists since
that time. I told him I hated needles so he
showed it to me. It was wrapped sterilely,
and thin-as-a-hair when he took it out.
He laid me on my side, and worked quickly,
plinking in seven needles from my neck
down to my forearm. When he put one close
to my elbow, I experienced something strange
in my next breath. He told me to hold still
and relax deeply. I giggled for the next 20-
minutes, laughing at the site of needles in
my skin (I really hated needles).

After he took them out, I felt better. So did
Mom. We went back for a second treatment
(understand that it takes at least two), and
my neck pain was gone for at least two months.
You can do it too. It's SO worth it. They
can even give you needles for weight loss.

While some western researchers acclaim its
effectiveness for some ailments, others claim
it's just the placebo effect. "Chi" energy has
not been reconciled with western medicine,
and there is no supporting evidence of the
"meridians" or channels in which the chi flows.

But if you skip a meal, you feel less energy.
If work hard all day, you know you have
expended energy because you have little left.
Conversely, if you feel excited about something,
you feel a high level of energy.

Also, everyone knows that brain waves are
pulses of electrical energy. Muscle motor
units fire when the brain sends electrical
impulses along sodium chains in the body.
Our blood contains iron, which is conductive.
We have a measurable electromagnetic

There are all kinds of evidence of "energy"
in our bodies; the problem is that acupuncture
is "based on a pre-scientific paradigm of medicine
that developed over several thousand years and
involves concepts that have no counterpart within
contemporary medicine."

But as we say in the States,
"The proof is in the puddin'."
Forget your fear of needles and go try it.
You will be shocked at how well it works.

A few suggestions:
1. I like Chinese doctors. Other ethnicities
can learn and administer needles, but the
Chinese invented it.
2. Acupuncture should not cost $100.
I think $25-45 is typical, with a slightly
higher initial consultation. Also, check
your insurance; it might be covered.
3. My Chinese doctor also employs the
use of an infrared lamp. It warms the
needles and feels really good.
4. If you're tough, and really need strong
medicine, they can hook the needles up
to electric charge, and/or use bigger needles.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tai Chi: Panacea Means "Cure-All"

Of the four branches of Chinese medicine,
I begin with the Chi Kung (Qi Gong) branch
because it is my specialty. In 2003, I began
learning under Grandmaster Victor Sheng Long Fu.
In that time, I have spent well over $30,000,
read & studied texts voraciously, and
practiced, practiced, practiced my brains out.
At different periods, I practiced more than
six hours a day. I've made a lot of progress :)

Kung Fu simply means "extensive practice."
Chi Kung means "energy practice." There are
10,000 kinds of Qi Gong; but essentially,
Qi Gong is an inward focus on posture and
breathing. Mostly it requires movement, but
sometimes it's just "standing," or holding a
special position. The Shaolin monks even
practice "Iron Qi Gong," which hardens their
bodies almost unbelievably. I personally
invite you to check out Iron Qi Gong on
YouTube.com, but I beg you not to read about
Qi Gong on Wikipedia (it's a train wreck,
clustered with controversy and hyperbole).

The most important and developed forms of
Qi Gong are the internal martial arts such as
Tai Chi and BaGuaZhang. Do not shy away
from them because they're related to "fighting."
Energy practice of this kind is the most powerful
means to optimize your health. As my teacher's
father, Fu Wing Fay, once said,
"Tai Chi Chuan is a kind of profound art where
you use your intent (mind) and not your strength.
Therefore Tai Chi should not be looked upon as
any kind of martial art. To look at it as such
would deprive it of its art value and its
philosophical foundation."

The practice of Tai Chi fixes the entire body.
It mobilizes the joints and stretches them in all
three planes, enabling far greater balance and
mobility. The waist turning principle of Tai Chi
massages the internal organs, while the slow,
uber-relaxing movements ward-off stress and
soothe the mind. The postural practice 
emphasizes moving the body weight onto the
bones and connective tissue instead of the muscles.
This in turn stresses and twists the bones, which
stimulates the immune system (white blood cells
are produced in the bone marrow). The deep
breathing technique called "Taoist Breathing"
does such amazing and wonderful things for
the body that I still have yet to understand them.

All told, proper practice of Tai Chi will repair
damaged joints, boost all aspects of athleticism
and keep you from getting sick. If you go find
the list of ailments that people claim Tai Chi
can fix, you will start to believe it's the panacea
(cure-all) the world has been searching for.

To start practicing your chi-energy:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

You're Missing Good Medicine

Today I'd like to guide you through
the four pillars of Chinese medicine.
Then over the course of this week,
I'll go into more detail regarding
each one, offering my perspective
in language I hope you will understand.

Before I do, I'm compelled first to broach
the subject of Chinese culture. Suffice
it to say that this culture, these people,
their language, their lifestyle--  
most everything in and around the word
"Chinese" is radically different than the
way we understand things in the West.  
Not only are there multitudes of words
and concepts in Chinese that have no
literal translation; but "Chinese" is comprised
of two different languages (Mandarin and
Cantonese) and two accepted standards for
translating them to English (Wade-Jiles and
PinYin). If you do any research on Chinese
culture (even to support what I am explaining
here), you will find the same name or concept
spelled five different ways, and each explanation
can be as different as red is to blue.

Most words in Chinese have four different
meanings, depending on the tone of the speaker
(like singing notes). Most phrases mean two or
three or four things at the same time because they
are morphed from old, old Chinese proverbs.
These points do not make Chinese weird.
They simply illustrate how different things can be.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is the most developed
and employed methodology of Asian origin. From
Thailand to Korea, Japan to Mongolia, TCM
is respected and utilized in the same way western
medicine is used in the west. The difference is,
here in the west, we don't amalgamate the two
schools the way they do in Asia.

In the clearest terms, Traditional Chinese Medicine is
the preventative maintenance required for good health.
In contrast, western medicine fixes it when it's broken.

The first and most recognizable of the "four branches"
is acupuncture. A highly-trained Chinese doctor
inserts five or more super-fine needles into amazingly
specific points in order to stimulate chi (western medicine
theorizes that the needles stimulate nerves and the release
of endorphins & hormones). Although is sounds freaky
to westerners, acupuncture is EXTREMELY RELAXING
and most people experience dramatic results. This practice
is also something you can learn and utilize for yourself,
believe it or not.

The second branch is Chinese herbs. Plants are indeed
the great alchemists of the planet, and there are special
herbs for most any ailment. Herbs are typically prescribed
by the acupuncturist; however, anyone can learn about
herbs and self-medicate.

The third branch is called Qi Gong (chee gung), and
can best be translated as "energy practice." A long distance
runner has to work up to long distances by practicing his
or her energy. Qi Gong is far more sophisticated and
developed than running, and includes stretching, postural
practice and powerful breathing techniques. You've
probably heard of Tai Chi, which is a Qi Gong. This branch
of TCM requires you to learn it and do it for yourself--
no one can do it for you.

Last comes Tui Na (twee-nah) massage. That sounds about
right, doesn't it ? Massage is good medicine. It heals the
body and rids it of toxins. It relaxes, soothes and nourishes
the muscles. Tui Na massage works the same points
as acupuncture and adds a chiropractic-type manipulation
to the treatment. You can also do this for yourself, but
isn't it nice to get a massage ?

The point of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to employ
all four branches in order to maintain good health.

Any questions ?