Chinese Medicine out the Yin-Yang - My Interview with and Acupuncturist
Updated: Dec 19, 2017
If you have ever found yourself leaning in on your friend's conversation as she raves about her last acupuncture treatment, odds are you're a least a little bit curious how sticking yourself with needles can improve your health. As a reformed skeptic of this healing art, I took it upon myself to revisit all of the questions I remember having before I started getting acupuncture done regularly.
"What the hell does Yin and Yang mean?"
"How can sticking needles in my body help improve my health?"
"What are Meridians"
In this interview with local acupuncturist Dana Bairen, L.Ac, Dipl.O.M., and owner of Emerge Acupuncture, we delve into addressing how acupuncture fits into the modern world and how it can promote healing on a deep, meaningful level.
From Dana -
"My intention in treating people is to help them find their passion and happiness. The first step is by making the body as pain free and functional as possible. Often times there are emotional factors that prevent us from achieving health and happiness in our lives. Bottom line, we just want to help people live fuller lives. We love our patients and we love what we do. It is an amazing gift to be able to connect people with others that share the same intentions. I, as well as our staff, have incredible gratitude to be able watch people "emerge ".
Tristan: Can you describe you are who, what you do, and what your passions are so my readers can get to know you better?
Dana: Oh God, who I am...I have no idea who I am, it changes constantly.
I would say my passion is for growth and growing. Especially regarding intellectual and emotional growth because it translates into Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM is a field of medicine you can never get bored with because there is so much information and it is constantly growing. If I had 10 lifetimes I wouldn't know it all, and it constantly keeps me intrigued. I have to know how the body works on a cellular level. For example, I have to know the skeletal system and the muscular system, and those all fit into the logical and meticulous aspects of my personality.
I also get to dive into the emotional aspects of people and really dig into the psychology of how people grow up, what their life was like, what motivates them in terms of fear and love, and how that correlates with their health. People are always so surprised how emotions affect their body so it's really fun educating people because ultimately I get to create and bring more awareness into people's lives.
Tristan: I love that acupuncture allows you to work with people in a holistic way and address not only the physical, but also the psychological and emotional aspects of health. I believe that people are really starting to realize the extent to which their emotions help or hinder their health. It's not just the physical or the emotional as two separate entities, sometimes they are one in the same.
Dana: Well, it's fascinating because I was just listening to an acupuncture podcast and they were talking about how energy on a cellular level is passed down through generations and how trauma can resonate fear at a cellular level. For example, Holocaust survivors or African Americans with slavery. If you've ever heard the term "it's like riding a bike" all that means is a cellular memory. So even if something really f*cked up happened when I was a kid, I still feel it today and it impacts my health.
So what acupuncture can do is tap in and move some of that negative energy out, and what's really neat is that every organ has its own personality and every channel has its own traits so I can say "ok Tristan's being a little grumpy today," so I would know to work on the large intestine, small intestine, stomach, and spleen. Plus, you can get down to specific emotions with acupuncture such as "I want more, I need more, I'm not enough" there's a channel for that, so that's what people don't get about acupuncture. They think that each part of the body only does one thing, which is a very Westernized approach.
Tristan: Where do you think that mentality comes from?
Dana: I think that American culture has gotten really good as bastardizing things. I think capitalism has a lot to do with it too. We're trying to find things cheaper so we're not doing things as thorough as we should by addressing all levels of health, not just physical.
Tristan: Everything has become very removed, the organs of the body have been removed from the system and specialized in some way.....
Dana: Well yea you make more money that way...in my opinion, it's very deliberate.
Tristan: Oh shit that's really true, I never thought of it that way. So interesting.
Tristan: So digressing a bit, how did acupuncture come into your life?
Dana: Well I started off as a massage therapist. I went to engineering school and I was about 6 months away from graduating when I realized I didn't really enjoy it, but the concept of energy absolutely fascinated me. Energy in nature, with human interaction, and how people open up or shrink was all very interesting. So I looked into becoming a chiropractor, and a physical therapist, and then I just decided to join the military to figure things out. While I was in [the military] I was reading an article in Yoga Journal and there was this 10-page spread on Herbal Medicine and all the modalities and it just felt right.
Tristan: So when you talk about the modalities, I know there are a couple major groups. Can you describe them and which ones you find yourself using most often with patients?
Dana: Well again, I don't know if I'll ever know everything there is to know about the modalities because there is just so much to learn, it's really an ancient medicine. Obviously acupuncture I do it daily. Chinese Herbal medicine, nutrition, and bodywork I do a lot of but there's also Tuina which is a form of Chinese massage that uses reflexology. Also, just to let you know, each modality requires 10 years of training.
Tristan: Hooooly shit, that's intense. Ok, so just to circle back so that this information is clear for readers, Traditional Chinese Medicine engulfs herbs, nutrition, tuina, acupuncture, and bodywork. Can you expand upon what is classified as "bodywork"
Dana: So there's also gua sha, moxibustion (consists of burning dried mugwort (moxa) on particular points on the body), some folks work with oils, linaments, ear seeds/tacks (small metal beads or pellets are secured on the ear with a piece of adhesive tape over specific acupressure points). Then there's body mapping, scalp acupuncture, there's just SO much.
Tristan: There really is so much diversity within the world of TCM in terms of all the modalities that are available which is absolutely incredible. It's no wonder that modern Westerners are so confused by TCM and acupuncture specifically. For example, the terminology that is used in the practice of acupuncture can be confusing because it is just SO different. So if I use the words "chi, yin & yang" or meridians" what are some ways that those can be related to more modern/Western terms so that people can better understand the terminology?
Dana: When I work with new people, I tend to stay away from those terms because they think I'm speaking "woo-woo"
Tristan: Yes absolutely, and I think that is where people lose their connection or interest in acupuncture. It's literally a different language and I think people get low-key intimidated by that.
Dana: Mmmhmm absolutely and the concept of Yin and Yang is very much related to Physics if you break it down. So it relates to the atomic charge of positive and negative. Yin and yang are exactly the same and we look at these energies as having a reliance on one another to function. There are a lot of things in nature and in life that mirror these energetic principles. There is a really cool book called the "Dao of Physics" and it gets into a lot of the things that Einstein talked about, and gravity, and Theory of Relativity.
I tell people that Yin and Yang are like a teeter-totter that mirrors different characteristics of either being deficient or having too much of something. So if you're not sleeping, that could be Yin OR Yang. If you're not sleeping because you are in pain that's a deficiency of Yin energy, whereas if you're not sleeping because you can't shut your brain off, that's more of an excessive pattern related to an excess of Yang energy. One is deficient and one is in excess.
Tristan: Can you break that down even more for people to understand better?
Dana: Sure, so your car in the parking lot is in a state of Yin because it's not moving. Once you turn the engine it becomes Yang because it begins to move. We need both to thrive. Same with the seasons, we are getting into winter and winter is more Yin. So things are starting to pass away, die, go deep within, hibernate, so energetically in the body our energy also goes deeper within which is more of a Yin state, yet we live in a Yang society.
Yang means movement, and we never shut off or slow down. That's why everyone gets sick this time of year because we don't adjust our schedules to fit our functional needs which are in a state of Yin where you need more rest and you need more food and more relaxation. During the summer months, you can get away with being more fast-paced because the summer is more Yang and the sun is out longer which provides you more energy.
Tristan: I absolutely agree with that because what's crazy is that your body knows, but our environment and our society doesn't let you live that way.
Dana: Well we don't have faith in our body and we have been taught this from a very young age. We also have a skewed perception of pain and I think discomfort and pain are very different. We live in an age where we don't like to be uncomfortable, which is a huge problem because you are not going to grow unless you are uncomfortable.
Tristan: So going with that, we could even view the winter months and people's resistance to slowing down and draw within as a way of resisting what is uncomfortable because slowing down is rejecting the culture of our society. So how can people try to get into more of a rhythm of Yin, Yang, and transformation?
Dana: I would say the number one thing is awareness. Sleep when you need to sleep, eat when you need to eat, wake up when you need to wake up. So if you have had a really long week, go to bed a half an hour early. It really comes back to self-responsibility and making sure you're eating well. So coming back to Yin and Yang, we shouldn't be eating salads, or sushi right now because it's just too cold! So that's extra energy your body has to use to digest raw food and warm up cold food that ultimately isn't going towards energizing you. So you are losing energy to digesting foods that are not appropriate for the time of year. So this is the time of year we should be doing soups and stews and roasting veggies. So it really comes down to awareness.
Tristan: That is a really good description of the differences between Yin and Yang, but how can people get their feet wet with other terms like Chi, Meridians, etc?
Dana: Well "Chi" has to do with Yang, blood has to do with Yin and we call that "Shu", and they are interdependent on each other. So it's the energy in the body (Chi) which moves the blood (Shu) throughout the body. Without blood (Shu), there would be no energy (Chi) to move through, so there always needs to be some form of friction or opposition for things to function.
As far as Meridians go, I always tell people it's like the I-10. So there are main vessels which are the main roadway, and then you have all of these different exits. One exit might go to your thumb, one might go to the heart, one might go to your sinuses, one might go to the ears...and so on.
Tristan: So when you talk about the major organs, the liver...the kidneys and so on, you're not always referencing the physical organ itself correct? I think where I get confused is understanding the pattern in which organs are affected.
Dana: Well that really depends on the person. The first organ affected will usually correlate to how someone grew up. So if you grew up walking on eggs shells because your home life was shitty, then you're going to have some Spleen symptoms. Spleen symptoms arise from the personality trait where you want to gratify because you don't like being in a confrontation as a result of your childhood.
Tristan: ...and the spleen in Chinese Medicine is responsible for....
Dana: Nurturing, and also over-giving. And people who grew up in that kind of a household typically don't feel seen or understood and they might also have a host of digestive problems. If digestive issues go on long enough it starts to affect the Liver, because the Liver is connected to the Spleen and so are the Kidneys. So it goes both ways and the Spleen is right in the middle of them both. If it gets really terrible and you don't change anything the Kidneys become very affected which then affects the Heart which affects your breathing, so it all really trickles down.
Where it lands in your body depends on you as an individual. I always tell people it's like a tree, and the tree will break at its weakest point and the weakest point in humans is really derived from the psychological energy such as how you grew up! Was your upbringing violent, was it sweet and tender, was it angry? All of these things tell me straight away what we're dealing with.
Dana: You know people think that time exists, time doesn't exist energy exists. So when people say "oh that happened so long ago just get over it" that's bullshit. That energy from when you were a child developed your personality, that's who you are. So you can undo the weaker parts of your personality and strengthen the stronger parts and acupuncture can help with that.
Tristan: So circling back to the traits of the organs, what are some of the qualities of the other organs? *For the sake of readability, I have grouped the organs and their corresponding element by different headers, as seen below
HEART + f i r e
Well, you have the Heart that's function is Joy and is represented by the element of Fire. So if you look at a puppy, that's pure Joy and Heart. If there is too much Joy or too much Fire, then that presents as psychological issues such as bi-polar, schizophrenia, and manic behavior. However, each organ and Element has its counterpart.
So Metal is really tough, doesn't bend, and can be cold. So black and white thinking is considered Metal, but what's interesting is that Joy and Fire are directly correlated to Metal because Fire melts Metal. So what that means is rigid thinking cannot change unless there is Joy. So environments such as the military where there is this really rigid thinking, there is no f*cking joy which shifts your personality into this very black and white thinking with no grey.
In reality, there is only grey, so it's really fascinating.
GALLBLADDER & LIVER + w o o d
Then there is the Wood Meridian which is Gallbladder and Liver. So the Gallbladder is all about Courage and is the general of the Heart. The Heart is all emotions and is not capable of making sound decisions, so the Gallbladder is where courage and sound decision making comes from and regulates the Heart. What's fascinating is that people who have their Gallbladder removed lack impulse control and are quick to fire up and be temperamental. That has to do with the Liver too, and the Liver has to do with anger, resentment, frustration, and rage.
SPLEEN & STOMACH + e a r t h
Then we have the Earth element which is Spleen and Stomach which are very nurturing. The imbalance there would be people who are a doormat and have a lack of boundaries. Imbalances could also present as ruminating thoughts, so that OCD/perfectionist mentality which ultimately is a fear of vulnerability. So, people with digestive issues don't like to be vulnerable.
KIDNEY & BLADDER + w a t e r
The Water element is Kidney and Bladder and that has to do with fear and anxiety. This is where we live in this society and there is not an advertisement that does not gravitate towards fear...fear of being ugly, fat, alone, broke, destitute, undesirable...we live in a fear-based society. So the inverse to that is wisdom, and the Kidney is also very much about wisdom.
So an example of how I would tie all of this together in an acupuncture treatment is if I have somebody that is dreading going home to their family and they're not looking forward to it, I would strengthen the energy in the Pericardium (protects the heart) and the Small Intestine (responsible for vulnerability) channels, I would tonify the Gallbladder (responsible for logic), and I would suppress the Spleen and Stomach channel which has to do with sweetness so that person wouldn't feel so vulnerable when going home.
Tristan: So when you are treating someone, you are addressing both the physical and the emotional symptoms, do you feel that one informs you more about the type of treatment that person needs?
Dana: Are you asking me which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Tristan: YES! I am, and does it really matter?
Dana: That's a great question, I have no idea. So, in theory, it really doesn't matter because they are both interconnected by Yin (emotions) and Yang (body).
Tristan: So our society is tired, stressed out, and fear vulnerability. How does that correlate with an acupuncture treatment?
Dana: Depends on how bad they are, and it depends on how open they are. I select points that help people with whatever they're dealing with and it's very intimate. As an acupuncturist, you're people's shrink, their doctor, and so much more.
Tristan: I can see that being very draining, how do you take care of yourself then?
Dana: Oh my god I have a whole team of people! I have my own acupuncturist, I get a message, I have a chiropractor, I see a therapist, I'm out in nature, I work out five days a week, I eat a plant-based diet, I work on adding more joy and laughter to my life, and I have incredible friends.
But I really do love what I do, I get to help people with their entire health. Not just the physical but also the emotional and it's really a true honor. People trust me with their whole body, their whole system and that's really beautiful.
Tristan: I wonder what our world would be like if more people worked on themselves on such a deep level.
Dana: Yea I think there would be more peace, less ego. You now Brene Brown put it best when she said, "falling apart and I feel fabulous". We're all in the same boat. We're all amazingly f*ucked up.
I hope you have enjoyed this interview with Dana, local acupuncturist to Arizona. Please comment below and feel free to share this article if you felt it added value to your life in some way!
If you would like to read more about Dana and her practice at Emerge Acupuncture, please visit http://www.emergewith.us/
Peace, love & all good things!
*All photos and images used in this article were derived from http://www.emergewith.us/