At the end of April, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 3rd Annual Zeng Rongxiu Shang Han Lun conference in Portland Oregon. It was very exciting to be there to study with Dr. Zeng who is now 87 years old as well as with some amazing other teachers.
We got to see how Dr. Zeng “exercised his brain tendon” (Arnaud’s interpretation of Dr. Zeng’s words) in carefully considering each case
The real heart of the conference and the heart of Dr. Zeng’s teachings in general was, in a nutshell, Yang dynamics. The life force itself is Yang in that it is warm, activating and bright (being that we are cold when we are dead) so when Yang dynamics are spoken of, we are really talking about the dynamics of the life force itself. The Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Damage from Cold) text is considered by many to be a manual of how the life force gets blocked and damaged as well as a manual on how to correct this. The reason this text is called The Treatise on Damage from Cold, even though many of the pathologies described within it are characterized by heat symptoms, is because cold is simply the opposite of the life force. All of the heat pathologies described in the text can be seen through the lens of the life force warmth building up due to improper circulation as opposed to being due to an actual heat pathogen.
I would like to highlight here a few of the extraordinary instructors who presented at this conference:
First of course is Dr. Zeng himself, the teacher of the conference organizer, Arnaud Versluys. Dr. Zeng taught us in the manner I enjoy the most – through case studies. We got to see how Dr. Zeng “exercised his brain tendon” (Arnaud’s interpretation of Dr. Zeng’s words) in carefully considering each case.In one case of bloating in a 7 months pregnant woman with a pulse rate of 180, Dr. Zeng advised us not to jump to conclusions to quickly. We could easily diagnose heat and stagnation in a case like this but Dr. Zeng diagnosed Qi collapse and successfully treated the patient Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang with the addition of Zhi Mu. With each case he presented, Dr. Zeng demonstrated his ability to SEE what was happening with the life force in a deeply synthesized clear manner.
Next I would like to talk about three European teachers who impressed and inspired me.
The first is Laurie Ayres (second from the left in photo) from the London Institute of the Classics in East Asian Medicine who spoke on Yang Dynamics in a selection of lines from the Shang Han Lun. From the moment Laurie began to speak it was clear that he had memorized the whole text – not just the lines he had prepared for the lecture. However, he has not simply memorized the Shang Han Lun in a linear fashion – it is clearly well indexed in his mind. As he helped us visualize the Yang dynamics described in each clause, he easily brought in examples from other parts of the text. Though Laurie spoke too quickly for me to take notes, in the end this was a benefit because, as I let go of trying to capture what he was saying, I began to see and move with the flow of it – seeing for myself the Yang dynamics of the various formulas and formula presentations. Toward the end of Laurie’s time, I asked him a question about the Yang dynamics of a formula that had always baffled me and he immediately called up the lines of the text that referred to this formula.
Then there is Roberto Hank (furthest left in photo) who works in the UK and in Berlin, Germany. Roberto is a western physician as well as an herbalist and he went over a case in which he used Shang Han Lun theory and formulas in the ICU, with a critically ill patient. He showed us step by step how the herbs helped to save this persons life and then Kidney function. Roberto is also doing some profound work using classic formulas in the treatment of Guillain Barre Syndrome. Though the causes of this disease are unknown from an allopathic point of view, Roberto showed us how he is seeing this and successfully treating this through the lens of Yang dynamics and classic formulas.
Finally I will mention Gerhard Schwestka(second on the right in the group photo and in photo on the left) who is a professor at the Vienna College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Gerhard is also an osteopath and so brought a sense of visual/tactile sensitivity to his sense of Yang dynamics. Though technically his lecture was on the “external internal relationship of Taiyang and Shaoyin”, it was also on general fluid dynamics in the body. What I gained from the lecture was a felt sense of the Yang of the body in relation to warming and moving fluids and how this relates to physiology, pathology and treatment. He has a truly exquisite way of describing these things. From my notes:
“Tai Yang repairs the lack of warmth on the surface”
“Gui Zhi brings warmth into the blood and then brings this to the surface”
“When you are sweating, there is an open channel down to your root”
“Gui Zhi Tang brings warmth to the capillary system”
“Gui Zhi Jia Shao Yao Tang brings warmth to the capillaries of the Small Intestine”
The other teachers were also wonderful and I could go on and on. My only regret is my own failure to absorb as much as I would have liked to. And of course we must make a bow to Zhang Zhong Jing, author of the Shang Han Lun.