CHI KUNG AND SEVERE ACUTE RESPIRATORY SYNDROME (SARS)
One of Sifu Wong's students, Cahyadi from Indonesia, asked Sifu Wong some questions regarding Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The answers will be found in the April 2003 Part 3 issue of the Question-Answer Series. But as these questions are of topical interest, they are first released here.
With the increased world's concern about the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), I would like to ask Sifu the following questions: In history especially in ancient China, did this syndrome ever happen before?
I don't know the answer because firstly there is no direct correspondence between the name of one disease in Western medicine and the name of the same disease in traditional Chinese medicine. Secondly, in traditional Chinese medicine, diseases are named not by their symptoms, as in the case in Western medicine, but by their causes in relation to the body's functions.
This may seem odd to many people, especially those who view health and illness from only one perspective, usually the Western medical perspective. To them if a disease is called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in one language, such as English, it must also be called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in another language, such as Chinese, even though the sounds of the words may be different but the meaning is the same. This is not so because different peoples view health and diseases differently.
Hence, in traditional Chinese medicine, there are no diseases called depression or high blood pressure, two very common diseases in the West. This does not mean there were no people in ancient China who suffered from what modern Western doctors would call depression and high blood pressure. The ancient Chinese physicians would call these diseases differently, such as “jian wang” (literally “health loss”) and “gan hua shang yan” (liver fire rising up).
But not all patients suffering from “jian wang” or “gan hua shang yan” suffered from what modern Western doctors would call depression or high blood pressure. “Jian wang” patients, for example, might suffer from loss of memory or anxiety.
If a patent suffering from what in Western medicine is callded Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome consults a Chinese physician, depending on the pathogenic condition of the patient's body systems, the physician may name the disease like “fei zhasng” (literally lung swelling) “fei qi xu” (deficiency of long energy) or “fei huo” (lung fire).
This does not mean that another patient diagnosed by a Chinese physician to be suffering from “fei zhang”, “fei qi zu” or “fei huo” is suffering from what Western doctors would call Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. He may suffer from bronchitis or pneumonia. This may give some people the false impression that Chinese medicine is not exact. This is not so; it is just different ways of looking at the same thing. For example, looking at a whale, most Chinese (and perhaps many Westerners too in their everyday conversation) would call it a fish, but some Westerners steep in science would call it a mammal. On the other hand, when you mention “fish”, it is not necessary that the Chinese would think of a whale, they may think of a shark or a salmon.
From the chi kung perspective, is this still a part of energy blockage?
Yes, from the chi kung perspective, which is based on Chinese medical knowledge, there is only one illness, and at the most fundamental level there is only one cause. The name of the illness is “yin-yang disharmony”, which has countless different symptoms. Western medicine gives different names to the illness according to the symptoms. Chinese medicine also gives different names to generalize these symptoms, like “jian wang”,and “fei huo” mentioned above. But they are always aware that the illness is “yin-yang disharmony”.
There may be many immediate causes of illness or “yin-yang disharmony”. In Western terms, the immediate causes may be viruses, bacteria, fungi, stress, negative emotions, physical injury, wrong food, poisons, chemicals and many other countless things. The Chinese generalize all internal and external causes into “seven emotions and six evils”, which are symbolic terms describing not the immediate causes themselves, but the patient's conditions in response to these immediate causes.
Herein lies a crucial philosophical difference, which not even many medical experts realize, but which explains why, at least in theory, Chinese medicine can overcome any diseases, whereas many diseases are “incurable” in Western medicine. This philosophical difference is so important, albeit so little known, that I would like to elaborate on it.
As Western medicine defines illness by symptoms, the onus of treatment therefore is on removing symptoms. On the other hand, as Chinese medicine defines illness by the psychological and physiological functions of the patients, the onus of treatment is on restoring these functions. Chinese physicians therefore attempt to find out what aspects of the body systems are not functioning naturally, and rectify them.
Superficially it appears that Western medicine is doing the same thing, i.e. restoring natural functions, but it is not. In the case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, for example, the onus of research is studying the virus in question and finding means to overcome it. This is logical as all modern medical research scientists are trained in the Western medical tradition, and they are operating within the Western medical framework. Their presumption is that if a virus behaves in a certain way, it will behave in the same way in all patients. They have been so used to this presumption that they never question whether the presumption is valid.
Let us have a scenario if the medical research scientists were trained in traditional Chinese medicine. They would forget about the virus! This would be shocking to most people, as most people also operate from the Western medical perspective. In fact, Chinese medical scientists knew about what the West now calls virus, long before the West did. The Chinese did not call it “virus”, they called it “wen qi” or “virulent energy” They knew “wen qi” spread by air and physical contact, and caused virulent diseases, so during epidemics caused by “wen qi” in ancient times Chinese physicians advised the public to wear masks and wash their hands and body regularly.
But in their research to overcome “yin-yang disharmony” caused by “wen qi”, or in Western terms, a disease like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by virus, these researchers trained in traditional Chinese medicine would focus on their patients rather than on the virus. This is only logical as their purpose is to restore the natural functions of the patients, and not to understand the behavior of the virus. This does not mean understanding the behavior of the virus is not useful, it is. But the researchers must have proper focus and priority.
As these functions are natural, restoring them is possible. Let us examine the case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. A patient suddenly finds that he has severe acute breathing problems. The traditional Chinese therapeutic approach, which is different from the conventional Western therapeutic approach, is to find out what went wrong in the patient. Let us suppose that a thorough diagnosis shows there is too much “fire” in the lungs of the patient, and this in turn is caused by insufficient “water” from the kidneys to “quench” the “fire”. Please note that “fire”, “water” and “quench” here are Chinese medical jargons, and they do not refer to fire, water or quenching in the ordinary sense.
If the Chinese physician can increase the kidney “water” to “quench” the lung “fire”, the patient will recover as a matter of course. In theory, recovery is certain because breathing normally is a natural process. If the purpose were to make the patient breathe with his stomach, for example, that would be unnatural, and therefore not possible. The inability of the patient to breathe normally is only a temporary setback, and therefore can be rectified.
Saying that “yin-yang disharmony is due to the inability of kidney water to quench lung fire” is one way of describing the cause of illness from the traditional Chinese medical perspective, and this operates at the system level. In other words, in this case yin-yang disharmony occurs because the lung system and the kidney system are not functioning normally. Once the Chinese physician can restore the normal functions of these systems — by herbs, acupuncture, massage therapy or other means — the patient recovers.
Chi kung operates at a deeper level than the systems, it operates at the most fundamental level of energy. From the chi kung perspective, excess of “fire” in the lung system, and inadequacy of “water” in the kidney system are due to energy blockage. For some reasons, energy that is required to regulate the right amount of “fire” at the lungs, and to transport the right amount of “water” from the kidneys is prevented from flowing to where it should be to do its work. The fantastic thing about chi kung is that we do not even need to know what reasons caused the blockage, where the blockage is, or how “water” quenches “fire”. As long as harmonious energy flow is restored, the energy will naturally do its work.
What preventive measures should be taken to avoid being infected? In case someone has already been infected, what Chinese medicine can be effectively applied?
Besides the preventive measures recommended by conventional health care authorities, such as avoiding congested places and wearing a mask, the best preventive measure is to have practiced chi kung Viruses are everywhere, some of which are very deadly. Yet, we are not sick because of our wonderful immune system. The forte of chi kung is to enhance our immune system.
If you think of Chinese medicine as herbal medicine, as many people do, what herbs are suitable for overcoming Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome will depend on a thorough diagnosis of the patient's conditions. Generally “cleansing” herbs are used.
If you think of Chinese medicine in its wide sense, the best therapeutic method, I believe, is chi kung therapy. “Self-manifested chi movement” is an excellent choice. It is helpful to have a hot drink just before performing chi kung exercises to induce self-manifested chi movement. The hot drink promotes sweating which will drain out the harmful virus as sweat.
Those not familiar with Chinese medicine may think this is ridiculous, but it is not. Sweating as a therapeutic means to clear “eivils of illness” out of the body, which in Western terms would include disease-causing agents like bacteria, viruses, fungi as well as toxic waste and, is a standard therapeutic method in Chinese medicine. Sweating can be induced by herbs, acupuncture, massage therapy and other means. Sweating as a therapeutic method was also used by Westerners in the past before chemotherapy was invented. It may be fruitful for modern medical research scientists to look into this successful method used by ancient physicians in cases like viral attack where antibiotics are helpless.