Category Archives: Tradtional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

TCM Training

TCM Training

My TCM training program in the United States was five-year full-time attendance, and included over a thousand supervised treatments, as well as over 400 actual hours devoted to herbal studies alone. A medical doctor ( can be certified with as little as 360 combined hours, which will almost certainly not include herbal studies.



In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Damp and Phlegm are on a continuum Think of Damp as a mild spring day with an overcast sky. Think of Phlegm as thick fog.

Damp and Phlegm are excesses that have root causes. Either the cause is a weakness of the digestive system (Spleen Qi deficiency) or the condition is caused by too much of the wrong type of food.

When Damp assumes substance it becomes Phlegm. Usually that means something like extra pounds, thick drainage, or even soft nodules. In rare cases, the Phlegm can be invisible. Those people will have problems apprehending the world clearly. They can have difficulty concentrating, or in extreme cases, psychiatric problems.

Overweight people often skip breakfast, because they aren’t hungry. They may even feel slightly nauseated. The phlegm obstructs the natural hunger response.

Begin by reading the dietary recommendations listed for Spleen Qi deficiency, including breakfast suggestions. Please do not eat yogurt or cheese for breakfast.

Green tea can help with the muzzy-headed feeling.

Foods to be Avoided:

Avoid dairy, including milk. If you must have some cheese, then have a bit of goats-milk cheese or feta. Unfortunately, soy products and soy milk, as well as peanuts, also make Damp worse. Use grain such amaranth, or cooked lentils, to meet your protein requirements. Seeds can also be combined with vegetables to add protein. For instance, add sunflower seeds to salads and Muesli. If you eat meat or chicken, avoid fatty cuts and remove the skin. Butter and most oils should also be eliminated.

Refined sugar destabilizes the blood-sugar levels, making us hungry, which makes us eat again. Try to save refined sugar for an occasional treat.

Foods with Diuretic Properties

Alfalfa, parsley, radishes, celery, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, and kelp all drain damp, through their diuretic properties.

If the damp has already progressed to phlegm, don’t expect instantaneous results. TCM herbal therapy can be helpful, when used over a period of time, in conjunction with life style changes. Phlegm will make you feel lethargic, and your limbs might feel heavy, but exercise is a must.


Empty Heat

Empty Heat (Yin deficiency)

To understand the concept of Empty Heat, you first have to understand the concept of Yin. Yin is deep, earthy, and moist. In Chinese medicine, Yin describes the fluid, and substantial aspects of our bodies. As we age, our Yin decreases. When our Yin is insufficient to balance our Yang, the Yang heat-generating aspects of our body predominate. This can account for symptoms such as night-sweats or restlessness.

The recommended diet consists of 5% white meat such as poultry or fish, 30% cooked vegetables, 40% grains, 20% fruit and salad, and 5% milk products. If you tolerate dairy well, you can try a bit more,


  1. Food preparation is important. Steaming foods, or making stews, is the best method. Steamed vegetables can also be mixed into raw salads, and Muesli can be made with raw, grated fruit.
  2. Some Yin-nourishing foods are honey (a small amount), walnuts, black sesame, tofu, seafood, and berries.
  3. Black tea, and especially coffee, should be avoided. Don’t drink more than a cup or two of green tea. If you feel dry, pear juice is moistening. Grape juice, fruit tea, or yoghurt drinks like Lassi are good.
  4. For night sweats and sleeping problems, you can prepare wheat water. Use two tablespoons wheat berries and cook them in ½ a Liter of water for 20 minutes. Sieve and drink cool.
  5. Exercising excessively to stay very thin contributes to Yin deficiency, as does sleeping too little. Contemplative exercises such as yoga or tai-chi are suggested instead.

Blood Deficiency

Qi and/or Blood deficiency

Without a list of symptoms, it’s sometimes hard for the practitioner to distinguish between Qi and Blood deficiency. Women tend towards Blood-Deficiency. In Western Medicine, an actual blood deficiency is known as anemia. Though the TCM term Blood Deficiency includes this, it expands on the concept, to include other maladies.

The suggested diet consists of 5% meat, 30% cooked vegetables, 40% grains, 10% milk products, and 15% fruit and salads.


  • An exclusively vegetarian die is not recommended for Blood deficiency. If you would like to avoid meat and fish because of moral reasons, eggs, seitan, and tofu are important elements of the diet. If you don’t wish to get a TCM herbal formula, preparations such as Floradex can be helpful.
  • Eat lots of dark green vegetables such as chard and spinach. Eat red and purple fruits and vegetables such as red cabbage, beets, blackberries, and red grapes.
  • Meat should be prepared in such a way as to be easily digestible. More than 50 to 70 grams at one time can be too much for your digestion. Marinades such as apple cider vinegar (diluted 1:2 with water), tomato juice, wine, or lemon juice help break down the protein chains for better assimilation.
  • Heavy menses are often the cause of Blood deficiency. If you want to avoid the Pill and other pharmaceuticals, acupuncture and herbs can be helpful.

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Spleen Qi deficiency? Sounds pretty strange. The spleen is one the left side of the body, and sequesters red blood cells.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the term “Spleen Qi deficiency” is synonymous with digestive difficulties. In addition to our ancestral energy, which can be understood as “DNA”, we have only two sources available for energy—air and food.

If our digestive capacity is impaired, chances are good we’ll feel foggy-headed and tired.

With this diagnosis, it’s important to watch one’s eating habits.

  • Warm Breakfast: Warm breakfasts are recommended. That does not mean a cinnamon sticky bun right from the microwave! Rice or millet cooked with a stewed apple, some raisins, nuts and cinnamon can be warmed and eaten. Warm, slightly sweetened polenta with stewed fruits is another alternative.
  • Drink warm or room-temperature drinks. Ginger tea is very good for this condition, especially when prepared with fresh ginger.
  • Especially avoid ice-cream or cold beer. Be careful with excessive sweets.




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






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