Category Archives: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory

Full Heat

Full Heat

Full-Heat Syndromes aren’t often seen in the West in the TCM Clinic. Originally, the Syndrome described what we would now call an infectious disease.

A person with a strong constitution, that is, someone robust, with lots of energy, will manifest full heat when they get sick. The body’s response to disease means that the course of the disease is usually short. In the past, the person would get better quickly, or die. Now, of course, they’ll be given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, which are stronger than TCM treatments.

Some older men manifest Full-Heat as well. Their high level of energy and strong appetites mean that they build up more and more heat. As they work harder, they eat and drink more to keep going. The classic hypertensive, with a red face, a pounding pulse, and an impatient nature, manifests Full-Heat.

If the Full-Heat is the result of long-term inflammation or alcohol and caffeine abuse, anti-inflammatories and steroids are not a long-term solution.

In addition to lifestyle changes, acupuncture, herbal therapy, and in some cases, psychotherapy, bitter greens and other foods can be helpful. Red meat and caffeine drinks should be eliminated. People with excessive heat can fast with juices or eat raw foods for a short period of time to detoxify.

Foods to clear heat:

Arugula, mung bean sprouts, cucumber, pomegranate juice, daikon, sorrel, dock, rye-bread, apple cider vinegar, berries.

Gabrielle’s anti-inflammatory cocktail

One cup organic tomato juice

1 gram organic curcuma * (espresso spoon full)

A few shakes freshly milled black pepper

A few drops olive oil

1 tbsp. umeboshi seasoning**

If desired, add Brewers Yeast for B Vitamins. Mix together and enjoy.

*Curcuma, known as Jiang Huang in TCM herbal therapy, is a strong anti-inflammatory which also has anti-cancer properties. As David Servan-Schreiber Md, explains in his book, “Das Antikrebs-Buch”, curcuma can’t be absorbed well unless it’s consumed with pepper and a little oil (as in a traditional Indian curry.)
** Umeboshi is a type of pickled plum from Japan. Vital Punkt on St. Leonhardstrasse sells Lima Ume Su seasoning.







Liver Qi Stagnation

Liver Qi Stagnation

According to the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver is responsible for the free and harmonious flow of Qi. What impedes that?

Short answer—stress.

Although we might think that life is easier than it once was, the hectic pace of the modern world does cause stress. There’s stress in the thought that we’re not doing enough, or that we might miss something. Almost everyone experiences some stress, but certain people seem more susceptible to it.

  1. Don’t eat in a hurry, standing up. Also don’t gulp your food while reading the newspaper or your e-mails. Watch the frustration eating. It might make you feel better, but only temporarily.
  2. Frustration and anger lead to Liver-Qi stagnation. Vent your negative feelings. That doesn’t mean that you should get into a screaming match with the next person who annoys you. But don’t swallow your anger. Keep a journal, take a vigorous walk, even beat on your pillow when you’re especially frustrated.
  3. The cruciferous vegetables are especially helpful. Vegetables like broccoli, kohlrabi, and kale contain di-indoylmethane, which helps your body process excess estrogen.
  4. Exercise is important, and should be integrated into your daily routine.

TCM Diagnosis

TCM Diagnosis – Diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM has been used for centuries, well before the advent of blood and urine laboratory measurements, imaging tests, and other diagnostics. Properly trained TCM practitioners use subtle indicators to come up with a proper TCM diagnosis. The diagnosis is especially important when making herbal preparations or giving life-style advice. It does to some extent influence the choice of acupuncture points as well.

Diagnosis is a complicated process that is learned in the first full-time year of school. It depends on a proper medical history, as well as skills TCM practitioners learn. From the tongue and quality of different pulse positions on the wrists, the diagnosis can be further refined. Some practitioners like myself also use abdominal palpation to diagnose.

At markets and fairs, I often offer tongue and pulse diagnosis. Of course this is not the same as a full workup, which take into account many other factors. Also, sometimes the pulse and tongue contradict each other. People are rarely textbook examples.

To simplify things for the lay person, I use only six categories, three deficiency categories and three excess categories. Deficiency simply means you have too little of something, and excess means you have too much of something. You can think of it as something like weather. For example, some people seem foggy, and often, their pulse and tongue diagnosis also corresponds with that, suggesting they have damp.

And this man…would you say he looks hot?

Like he’s about to explode…


I’m sorry to say this man is a serious contender in the U.S. presidential race.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we do say someone like that has Full Heat.

The next posts will present all six simplified categories, along with some simple lifestyle advice for each. You will note the word Qi. In this context, it can be simply translated as energy.

Deficiency Syndromes

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Qi and/or Blood Deficiency

Yin Deficiency (Empty Heat)

Excess Syndromes

Liver Qi Stagnation


Full Heat






The Wood type is associated with spring and the time when  vegetation begins to grow. As a Wood type, you’re concerned with boundaries and structure. The boundaries are there to guide you on your journey, because you’re always off on a new quest. (I understand the Wood types quite well). You’re linear, motivated. and hard-working. Your challenge comes when the boundaries become stifling, and the structure you’ve built doesn’t take you where you want to go. Frustration and anger are things that Wood Elements frequently struggle with

You can recognize a Wood type by their intense gaze, tense muscles, and tight jaws. They can appear impatient. Health challenges include digestive problems and headaches.

The Five Elements tea blend contains green tea, for concentration, licorice, known as gan cao in Chinese Medicine, and used to relax and smooth tight muscles. Fennel and orange peel support digestion, especially if you’ve just gulped your food, as Wood types tend to do. (Please note this is not a medicinal tea, just an herbal blend to remind you to relax, even as you work.) The orange peel and lemon grass add a refreshing, slightly sour, note. The taste associated with the Wood Element is sour.

Below an exercise adapted from the book Transforming Your Dragons. Because a balanced Wood type can visualize the future so clearly, they often live in their future goals, rather than the present. Planning and organizing are good traits, but taken in the extreme, they leave you addicted to busyness.

Try this:

Have some unstructured time. This means you have a period, anywhere from five minutes to a few hours, where you do not have a plan for what you are doing. You might find yourself gathering material in anticipation of this: newspapers you haven’t read, mending you need to do.

Don’t. When the period arises, just let yourself be. You might just sit and think somewhere quiet outside, go for a walk, or listen to some music.

The Wood Type: Born to lead

Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton






Discrimination. Purity. Ultimate truth. Metal types, like Wood types, are partial to seeing the world in black and white. Detail-oriented perfectionists, they may physically look dainty and fragile, and yet, seem invulnerable. Metal types find it difficult to confide and connect with others, and can appear aloof. Underneath that aloofness though, there’s often a deep sadness. The Metal Type needs acknowledgement. It’s important to them that what they do matters. They can be more existential than most in their approach to life, dissatisfied by simple pleasures or superficial friendships. Like a miner looking for gems in the earth, they’re looking for a treasure in the dross.

The Metal type can feel like something is missing from life. They search for meaning. Perfection or completion is a driving force for them. For many, the ultimate connection is with the spirit, however they may choose to define it. Conversely, the Metal type may become cynical and resigned.

Physically, Metal types may have a catch in the voice, as if they were sad, or a voice that trails off at the end. The chest may be caved in, or they could have slumped shoulders. Lungs and the large intestines are weak points for Metal types, and sometimes, they can have weak immune systems.

The Metal type is prone to criticism, so here’s an exercise in giving compliments, adapted from “Healing your Emotions,” by Angela and John Hicks. The purpose of this exercise is to help you give praise, and notice how people receive it. This may also make it easier for you to accept praise and a pat on the back, instead of shrugging it off.

  1. Think of something you could say to someone that would compliment or indicate your respect for that person. Pick someone you see in your daily routine. Make a note formulating your thought, if necessary. Best are compliments that
  • Arise from information you have about that person.
  • Refer to something that would be important to them.
  • Possibly refer to an inner quality, rather than an outer one. (Don’t take the easy way out a compliment them on their outfit.)
  1. When you next see the person, give them the compliment. Note how thy take it in. Do they take it in
  • Smoothly
  • With verbal acknowledgement such as “thank you.”
  • With a disclaimer.
  • Shrugging or avoiding eye-contact.

It’s easier for some people to deal with compliments than others, but even those that seem uncomfortable at the time might benefit. Speculate about the consequences. Some things that could happen…

  • That person might have had a better day.
  • Your words might have changed their view of themselves.
  • Their relationship with someone else might improve.






Earth Type

Earth Type

Earth Type

While the Fire type is wild, exciting, and unpredictable, the Earth type is the friend we all wish to have. Diane Ackermann has this to say about the importance of feeling nourished by our connection with others:

“We prefer to talk in person, as if we could temporarily slide into their feelings. Our friend first offers us food, drink. It is a symbolic act, a gesture that says: This food will nourish your body as I nourish your soul. In hard times, or in the wild, it also says I will endanger my own life by parting with some of what I must consume to survive. Those desperate times may be ancient history, but the part of us forced in such trails accepts the token drink and piece of cheese and is grateful.”

Indeed, we are grateful for the caring and stability of the Earth types. However, when this type becomes out of balance, caring can become interference, and stability becomes inertia. Giving too much may create a hunger inside, one not easily filled with the sweet goodies the Earth type craves.

The Five Element Earth Tea has a sweet taste from organic goji berries and shredded coconut. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, goji berries nourish the blood and build energy.

Earth types like to take care of others, but often have trouble asking for what they need themselves. They feel other people should be able to anticipate needs, just like they do for their friends and loved ones. Sometimes the Earth type also is conflicted about asking for anything for themselves, when they see others have so many needs.

When an Earth type is unbalanced, her thinking may be muddled, and it could be hard to concentrate. Reestablishing connection to the earth and feeling grounded is important then. Also important is learning to say no to others when you need some time to take care of yourself.

As you might guess, more Earth types are women. Women suffer from distorted body images, especially when the belly is concerned. Wearing tight pants and sucking in the stomach is unfortunately a common behavior. However, tension in your belly interferes with your ability to digest and breathe properly.

Here’s an easy breathing exercise:

Belly Breath

  • Sit on a chair with your back straight
  • Close your eyes, and imagine that your diaphragm (the muscle separating the lung and the abdomen) is an accordion. When you have completely exhaled all the air from your lungs, the accordion is tightly compressed; when you take a deep breath, it expands.
  • Place one hand just below your belly button and the other just below your breasts. Slowly breathe in, imagining that your lower hand is pulling down on the accordion while the upper hand is pulling up.
  • Feel your lungs fill up from top to bottom. When the accordion is fully expanded, slowly exhale, and feel the accordion relax.

Continue for 2-3 minutes, and repeat twice daily.

The Earth Type: The Willendorf Venus statue



Fire Type


Fire charms, glows and enchants. But it’s a changeable element, sparkling and strong one minute, just embers and ashed the next. Fire types love to converse, joke, and relate to other people. They also have a tendency to get their feelings hurt easily, and to jump into relationships. It’s hard for them to find a balance between intimacy and rejection. Though fire types are creative, it can also be difficult for them to show sustained effort, since they’re easily dejected. The fire element rules the heart, and Fire types can have circulatory problems, or suffer from depression and insomnia.

My Fire Element tea warms those in need of a little cheer with herbs such as dried ginger and cinnamon. The tender red of rose petals remind us all of the importance of love.

The following exercise, adapted from “Healing your Emotions”, by Angela and John Hicks, is a good reminder for us all, not just the Fire Type.

In Swiss culture, we were raised to be conscientious and fix things. That leads to a lot of fault finding. But it’s also good to reflect on things that went well, because that helps us stay positive. Take a few minutes every day, morning and night, to make notes in a little journal.

When you wake up, ask yourself

  • What do I appreciate in my life at the present?
  • What am I enjoying about my life at the present?

In the evening, you can ask yourself

  • What have I learned today?
  • What positive things happened today?
  • What have been my gifts today?

This doesn’t have to be anything complicated. For instance, as I write this, I can say that I learned it’s a good thing to get help from experienced writers who are serious about their craft. I am grateful for the suggestions I got from my writer friend in Ireland today.

And as for what I gave out—I made time to go to a party and meet the daughter of a good friend, who was visiting Switzerland from America. I complimented a yoga teacher there on the exercises she showed me. And I watered my bean plants.

Simple things. But a good day.

The Fire Type: Russel Brand – kooky and creative.



Five Elements Quiz


Five Element Quiz

The Five Element teas I’ve created reflect certain personal dispositions. They are tea blends for taste and pleasure and personal exploration—not medicinal teas. (To create a proper Chinese herbal recipe, pulse, tongue, and symptoms all need to be taken into account. Please see

Do you want some help on deciding which element is strongest, or are you curious about a friend or colleague? Just take the quiz I designed. The answer key appears at the end. Count up your answers and see which Element category they fall into. Which Element did you choose most often?

We all have a constitutional tendency towards one Element, but remember, your life circumstances will influence your choices as well.

You can click on each Element at the end of the quiz to read more.

Five Elements Intake Quiz
Choose the best answer for each question.

1. I seek out the company of others to…
A. Share my feelings
B. To discuss philosophy, science, or politics
C. To share good food
D. To engage in competitive games or sports
E. I don’t seek out others

2. Others seek me out
A. Because I am nurturing
B. Because I am reliable and knowledgeable
C. Because my presence is soothing.
D. Because I organize and plan fun things.
E. Because I am funny and entertaining.

3. When I want to be alone it’s because
A. I have so much to get done.
B. I want to be alone to think over things.
C. Others have disappointed me.
D. Others are always relying on me.
E. I’ve exhausted myself with too many visits.

4. My most important relationships are
A. My children
B. Work colleagues with similar goals.
C. My romantic and sexual partner.
D. A long-time group of dependable friends.
E. I prefer sustenance from nature, books, or music.

5. If I had a pet I would like
A. A big dog to go running or hiking with.
B. A cat-they are so clean and tidy.
C. Any young cuddly baby animal.
D. An aquarium would be nice.
E. A colorful parrot

6. I like to be surrounded by the following colors…
A. Dark blue, black, or jewel like deep tones.
B. Coral, pink, brown, floral patterns.
C. Sage green, grey, checkerboard patterns.
D. Olive, green, navy blue, stripes.
E. Dramatic colors such as scarlet, paisley prints.

7. My supervisors appreciate my
A. Diplomacy, common sense, and team spirit
B. Innovation and enthusiasm
C. Constant hard work and motivation.
D. Low maintenance needs.
E. Attention to detail and conscientious attitude.

8. When I’m tired
A. Take a milky coffee or sweet.
B. Plan the rest of the day to conserve my energy
C. Drink an espresso.
D. I get some exercise.
E. Nap or daydream.

9. Food habits
A. Who has time to sit down and eat?
B. I love to go and try new ethnic or spicy foods.
C. I’m satisfied with simple foods: soups, smoothies, a bowl of muesli.
D. I like regular meals with traditionally prepared foods.
E. I’m drawn to starches and sweets.

10. Food preferences
A. Sweet, like chocolate or ice cream.
B. Bitter, like black coffee, arugula, or Campari.
C. Salty, like chips, pretzels.
D. Pungent, like cayenne, raw garlic, or onions.
E. Sour, like cornichons, lemons, plain yogurt.

11. Exercise
A. I like to dance or work out to music.
B. I like to swim or walk in the woods.
C. I love a rousing game or tennis, soccer, or other team sport.
D. I prefer to hike in the mountain areas.
E. I don’t like to exercise that much, but I have to, to control my weight.

12. Social mores: You’ve been invited to the wedding of a distant relative. Will you go?
A. Yes, I don’t know her well, but I feel obligated.
B. No, I’m very busy with my projects.
C. I’d love a chance to meet and talk with people.
D. If someone I care about goes, perhaps I will too.
E. No, I’m happy at home, relaxing.

13. Reaction to the unexpected. You see an unusual silver colored spider on the living room floor. You
A. Do nothing. It will eventually go somewhere on its own.
B. Take a photo of it so you can show all your friends.
C. Kill it.
D. Carefully move it outside.
E. Try to find out what it is on Google. Most fascinating.

14. You are inviting people over. What’s most important to you?
A. That everyone gets along.
B. That my place makes a good impression by being clean and nice.
C. That people will have fun.
D. That I can make some connections, learn something, or get a good tip.
E. That the gathering is small enough to be comfortable and cozy.

15. I thoroughly dislike
A. Frenetic loud scenes.
B. Being rejected by others.
C. Having my judgment called into question.
D. Being perceived as weak
E. Having my help brushed aside





N. Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
1 D A C B E
2 D E A B C
3 A E D C B
4 B C A D E
5 A E c B D
6 C E B D A
7 C B A E D
8 D C A B E
9 A B E D C
10 E B A D C
11 C A E D B
12 B C D A E
13 C B D E A
14 D C A B E
15 D B E C A

Theory of Five Elements

Theory of Five Elements


This lovely image by artist Louis Parsons depicts his version of the five elements, including ether as a fifth substance. But Five Elements in Chinese Medicine has far-reaching applications; everything from acupuncture points to psychological assessment.
I chose Five Elements as my business name in 1998, because I was intrigued by the theory, which I first encountered in a book about Feng Shui. The five elements are a key concept in Eastern philosophy and Chinese Medicine. Once a theory of elements also held sway in the west: those are the four elements many of you may be aware of—Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. The Chinese Five Elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Greek philosophers, and later alchemists and medieval doctors, thought that disease meant the body humors, or elements, were imbalanced. In the Far East, Chinese doctors had similar concepts. Imbalances of the five elements, manifested through associated organs, or emotions, could cause disease, or indicate constitutional weaknesses.
The five elements also have a bearing on the psychology of the individual. Though we have constitutional tendencies, or leanings, towards manifesting a particular type or mix of types, this will also be affected by the stage of life we are in. This is a natural reflection of nature’s cycles. Traditional Chinese Medicine is concerned with the relationships of things with each other, not in isolation. We should ideally demonstrate a certain flexibility as we journey through seasons and decades, our energies ebbing and rising, our interests realigning.



That’s me, Gabrielle, licensed acupuncturist and TCM herbalist,in the header photo. I’m doing one of my favorite things; standing outside somewhere beautiful, enjoying nature.

That is opposed to one of my least favorite things – confinement. Before I was an acupuncturist, I worked as a medical technologist ( a less kindly word would be “lab rat”) in hospitals, starting in 1986. I saw a lot of confinement. By the time the patient reaches ICU and CCU she is imprisoned, both psychologically and physically. The good news is that most of the doctors and nurses (and lab rats) really do care about the patient’s welfare. The bad news is that the sicker someone gets, the more options narrow, until only that hospital bed, IV, oxygen tank, and feeding tube are left, or perhaps, dying at home, if a caretaker is available.

That’s scary. So I think one of the goals of integrative medicine is to keep the patient having options as long as possible. Death is inevitable. Suffering is always present. But suffering can take away your life and replace it with monotony and an impersonal setting, or you can alleviate your suffering, perhaps even eliminate it, if you take steps right away.

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