Lucky for us, there is a Chinese medicine tradition well-suited for our times.
Published in the June 2019 newsletter for the Florida State Oriental Medicine Association
By Brendan Kelly, M. Ac., L. Ac., herbalist, author
In our era of climate crisis, Chinese medicine can not only offer healing on the small-scale of the individual it also has a vital role in helping address the large-scale ecological imbalances that now confront us. And rather than being separate issues, what’s happening within us is being reflected in the warming and destabilizing of the climate around us.
Over thirty years of climate science indicates conclusively that the planet is warming and the weather has become unstable from what we’ve been emitting. Called greenhouse gases because they hold warmth in the atmosphere in a way similar to greenhouses, they’re released into the atmosphere from the burning of oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels.
We burn them for warming and cooling our homes, clinics and schools. We burn them to create electricity. We burn them when we drive and fly. We burn them to manufacture the clothes we wear, to print the books we read and to make the acupuncture needles we use. We burn them as part of growing, harvesting and processing the herbs we use with our patients. We burn them when we ship those herbs to our clinics.
Without exaggeration, the use of fossil fuels and the ecological heat they create reaches all parts of our country and all parts of the modern practice and study of Chinese medicine in the US. Here in the states, we are about 5% of the global population but create over 20% of the total greenhouse gases. By far, we create the most greenhouse gases per person of any large country in the world.
And the consequences of burning these fuels continues to become clear. Global temperatures are rising rapidly, glaciers are melting, oceans are rising and storms are getting more severe. In one example of many, last year in October of 2018 Hurricane Michael reached Florida as a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 160 mph. It was the third strongest Atlantic storm in recorded US history with 47 deaths attributed to its pounding winds and torrential rains.
The state of the planet is at such a critical point that even the usually conservative western scientific community is sounding the alarm. The most recent report in 2018 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which collects and analyses global climate data, indicates that if we are to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change we need to quickly make systemic changes. The IPCC states that we need to reduce our current levels of emission by 50% by 2030 and many scientists and climate change groups say that this may not be enough.
With all the heat in the world around us it’s not surprising that so many of us have so much heat internally. Just as our planet is warming rapidly, our internal environment is overheating as well. Many of us have a hectic rate of emails, texts and phone calls each day. And the amount of hours we work and are busy daily is another example of our individual overstimulation. Culturally, the number of new products, new ideas and the overall hectic rate of change around us are examples of this heat on a larger, collective scale. Luckily for us, there is a Chinese medicine tradition particularly well-suited for our times, namely the Wen Bing.
Over my past decade of clinical practice, it has become clear to me that diagnosing and treating heat in the treatment room can be particularly effective in our overstimulated, over worked culture. In applying Wen Bing principles, most of painful conditions I treat—from acute injuries to chronic pain from condition like arthritis—have a major component of inflammation, which is heat and swelling on a physical level.
A major focus of our clinical work also includes treating a wide range of psycho-emotional conditions and, as with most physical issues, heat again is a major issue. While heat physically equates with inflammation, mentally and emotionally heat is overstimulation. Anxiety is often from heat rising upward to the chest and Heart, which can affect the shen. Racing thoughts often comes from a similar overstimulation where the mind can’t relax. Even diagnosis like bi-polar can be effectively treated as it often comes from heat that creates significant mental overstimulation. This heat can create an underlying tiredness—as heat can consume the Qi and even the Yang–creating the sometimes severe peaks of hyper-overstimulation and the equally severe valleys of depression.
Not only can the School of Heat provide effective care on the microcosm scale of the treatment room, but it is also important medicine for the macrocosm of our culture and the planet. We’re hot and overstimulated individually, we’re hot and overstimulated culturally and the planet is warming rapidly. With the holism of Chinese medicine, we can see the very same imbalances we diagnose in the treatment room are being mirrored in our country and in the climate. And as we reduce the heat in the patients we work with—one needle and one herbal formula at a time—we are helping our culture and our planet move towards balance.
Brendan Kelly practices acupuncture and Chinese and western herbal medicine at his family practice Jade Mountain Wellness in Burlington, VT. He works with a wide range of patients—front toddlers to seniors—addressing a wide range of physical, mental and emotional conditions. A significant part of his clinical practice also includes preventing disease and promoting long-lasting health.