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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lao Tzu and Descartes: Philosophy behind Medicine

According to the Tao Te Ching, The Way produces one, one produces two.
The two produce the three and the three produce all things.
Thus, all phenomena are related, and nothing can be separated. Nothing exists in a vacuum. This is the foundation of much Eastern thought, and also of Eastern, and generally holistic, medicine.

Modern Western medicine is brilliant. For any sort of operation or dramatic situation, I would want to be an American hospital. The basis of Western medicine is Cartesian logic: B has a cause, A, which must be found and addressed. If a serious heart condition arises, we might give someone a pacemaker, or even a new heart, depending on the specific cause. It’s logical and effective.

But Western medicine stumbles when confronted with more subtle phenomena. By always looking for a specific A that caused B, it often misses the effects of C, D, and E, which are also playing a part. Compounding this oversight is the fact that many doctors are too overworked to examine or address lifestyle factors. A simple solution is easily overlooked in favor of medication.

Anyone training in Eastern medicine—acupuncture, herbs, bodywork, or qi gong—is taught that lifestyle is primary. We are trained to look deeply at diet, exercise, sleeping patterns, career, and relationships, and to act as a guide to healthier habits. A good shiatsu practitioner—or herbalist or acupuncturist, etc—sees health as harmony: harmony within oneself as well as harmony with the environment and world.

Let’s use me as an example. I used to get frequent colds and sinus infections, to the point of feeling desperate. After my third regimen of antibiotics for sinus and ear infections in one winter, I asked my doctor what was wrong and how it might be fixed. He said, “If you get another one, we’ll call the ear-nose-throat doctor,” and left it at that. But I was run down, miserable, and exhausted from the constant infections. The antibiotics were taking their toll, too, leaving me drained and harming my digestion*. The whole thing was depressing me.

Looking back at my former self, I could now recommend dozens of things that would have helped. I would teach my former self qi gong exercises, remove my former self from dairy and maybe even wheat, make sure my former self was getting enough movement, recommend that my former self take a shower with essential oils of peppermint, yarrow, and frankincense, and maybe even teach her to treat a few points for immunity. I now know that shiatsu would have kicked the problem, too. In fact, in my first year of shiatsu school, I felt another ear infection coming on. Two shiatsu treatments from a professional later, it was totally gone without antibiotics.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything is connected.

Yesterday, a colleague was telling me about some problems his son has: He has a learning disability, he stutters, and he’s seriously depressed. He seems to be getting better with therapy, but the progress is slow. I suggested that maybe antidepressants would help, to make life bearable and give his son more strength to do his inner work with the therapist. My friend told me that doctors they’d consulted determined that the three issues (disability, stuttering, and depression) were unrelated, because they could find no direct causal relationship. That blew my mind. According to my training, there’s no way these things are unrelated. I would need to examine the boy to know for sure, but, based on theory, he has a problem with HT meridian, which related to speech disorders, learning, and joy. My course of action for him, were he my client, would be to treat with shiatsu/diet/exercise, and recommend he also get therapy and ask his doctor about antidepressants.

Some people roll their eyes and think of shiatsu as witchy voodoo magic. I like to point out that, although there are very intuitive aspects to the system, it’s essentially a compilation of highly detailed observations collected over thousands of years. And…it works.

So, why should we choose either Lao Tzu or Descartes? We are blessed to have both masters accessible, and we should meld their ideas. While I believe parts of Western medicine are just wacky nutso insane (skirting real exploration by medicating things away too hastily, literally cutting out parts that don’t work optimally), I know they think much the same about what I do. But I’m happy I can have both my shiatsu and my birth control pills.

Reading assignment: The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

*Another problem with our medicine: using bombs to destroy anthills

8 Comments:

Blogger Larry Jones said...

I'm glad you like Western medicine as well as Eastern methods, and I guess if you need pills or surgery you should go to an M.D., but I totally blame Western doctores, particularly American ones, for the state of affairs we are in. They are poorly trained in nutrition and metabolic therapy, they know nothing at all of esoteric treatments like shiatzu, and despite this they are arrogant and think they know everything. I'm sure they're not all bad people, but their medical blind spots make it difficult for patients to stay healthy.

Sorry, just my opinion.

2:04 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Hi Larry!

(I secretly sort of agree but it's not in my best interests to say so)

9:37 AM  
Blogger Lah said...

I agree that both western and eastern or "alternative" medicine can have a place in the prevention and treatment of disease. It took me a while to come around to this middle-path opinion, however. After my struggle with colon problems for years, I was very angry with western medicine and went wholly over to alternative medicine. While I still prefer to try and heal things naturally, I have since realized that western medicine can do things that alternative medicine cannot. For example, I had lasik eye surgery and now have 20/20 vision. I also had great success with laser light treatments for acne where all sorts of dietary changes, supplements, and acupuncture hadn't helped in the least. So, I think both should have a respected place in our approach to health and wellness. :)

8:46 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Yes, Western medicine has some good stuff in it.

Sounds like lasers have been awfully good to you, Lah! Are you a supervillain? ;)

10:27 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

PS I should add, I think there's some tripe in alternative medicine. I don't much go in for angels, crystals, pyramids, or faeries. But if they work for other people, who am I to say.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Ah, the nuanced approach to health care. Very well said, kStyle.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Lah said...

oh god--I forot about all the stuff with crystals, angels, fairies and whatnot.

One time when we were still living in Marlborough Luke's mom sent us this series of audio tapes called something like "the angels healing guide" or something like that. It was so funny we listned to a half-hour of it rolling on the floor...

12:09 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Ann: Thanks!

Lah: *chuckle*

3:12 PM  

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