I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on treating patients who may get ill from this rapidly spreading virus. Keep in mind that I’ve not seen any patients with this particular virus so my thoughts are theoretical. At the same time the perspective I am offering is the one I use in my practice anyway. Colds and flus are often considered quite difficult to treat. One reason is that they change quickly and you have to get it just right in the moment. There are many Chinese herbal remedies out there but, in my experience, formulas like Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling are not effective most of the time. In addition, using Chinese herbs as western drugs is also not effective. What I mean by this is that giving people herbs that are considered anti-viral or immune enhancing doesn’t work. I’ve seen writings by herbalists suggesting this method as a way to approach Covid-19 . This is theoretical too and, given my experience, I very much doubt that this would be helpful.
Modern TCM offers some helpful perspectives by doing things like clearing heat, transforming damp toxins, dispelling wind cold etc. This is the way I was initially trained and the results were moderate. This is also the perspective of many of the Chinese medical articles I’ve seen regarding how our medicine can help with Covid-19.
The perspective I’ve had since understanding more of the classical approach to treatment has been, by far, the most accurate and effective approach I’ve had access to in all of my years practicing. With this understanding I’ve felt much more confident about treating acute respiratory illnesses, often giving people who are coming down with something a cup of hot herbs right away in the office. They can feel the results often right away. I think this paradigm can be very useful for the pandemic that seems to be coming our way and I will explain below:
I see the body as unavoidably and necessarily permeable. It is part of being a living being that we are constantly taking in the world around us through out breath, our digestions, our skin our senses and even vibrationally. We assimilate the world as it becomes our flesh and blood in a constant process of renewal. We also discharge the world constantly through our evacuations, our skin, our breath and even through our actions. There is a constant flow in and a constant flow out. Being permeable and being able to process the world could be seen as the definition of health and the definition of a healthy immune system.
From a classical perspective, the 6 conformations, Tai Yang, Yang Ming, Shao Yang, Tai Yin, Shao Yin, and Jue Yin, can be seen as functions in the body. If we see this taking in and letting out of well being as like a water wheel, we could see each of the conformations as being part of the whole functioning of the water wheel. I won’t go into each of the functions of each separate conformation here. Suffice it to say that they all are working together to keep the water wheel turning. This way, what ever comes in, can be processed well. It is the function of the conformations to process the environment. People who can do this well, don’t get as sick.
Now take something like this virus. From a western allopathic perspective, the virus gets in us and really messes with us. We have to find a way to keep it out either by isolating ourselves, purifying our environment or developing a vaccine. If it does get in, we have to find a way to kill it, get it out or hopefully survive it. From a modern Chinese medical approach, the virus is a pathogen that is a hot pathogen or a damp one or one that is both damp and hot etc. This pathogen gets lodged in our bodies, in this case the exterior or in the lungs. From this point of view we don’t have to get the virus out but we have to get the pathogen out. This is why we have methods to clear heat in the lungs or transform a damp toxin or dispel wind cold or wind heat.
My understanding of classical perspective is different than either of these. In my view, as I’ve said, we are permeable and so, if the virus is around, it easily gets in us, just like air and food get in us. What happens when it’s in us has two vectors that both show up as the symptoms.
The first vector is related to how a person’s conformations were functioning before the virus came in. The symptoms for this vector are not symptoms of the virus but rather, symptoms of how my body is having a hard time processing it. For example, if my Yang Ming function of keeping my chest open so that heat can move through and not accumulate does not function well, then this will show up strongly when my body is asked to process something that requires this function. These symptoms are showing the doctor what function in the body needs to be restored in order that the body can process this. For example, if there is a lot of heat in the chest, a Shi Gao based formula will restore the function of Yang Ming to open downward. The heat is only there because my Yang Ming is not functioning and not because the virus itself is hot. The heat is actually simply my life force that is not able to move through because of the disrupted Yang Ming function in the chest. The heat is cleared because my Yang Ming is now functioning to clear it and not because I went in and cleared a “hot pathogen.”
The second vector relates to the virus itself. The nature of bugs like virus and bacteria is that it can damage the functions of my conformations. Again, the symptoms are not symptoms of the virus but symptoms of what the virus damaged, showing the doctor which function needs to be restored. When it is restored, the body can process the virus. For the doctor, it doesn’t matter much whether the lack of function preceded the virus or was caused by the virus. The treatment is still, always, simply to restore function.
The beauty of this approach, in my opinion, other than the fact that is has superior efficacy, is that with these methods, we are teaching our bodies how to be in relationship with our environment. The treatment strengthens the body’s ability to live in the world with things like Covid-19. Instead of having a view of my body as something I need to keep walled off from a dangerous world, I have a view of my body as part of the world with the ability to come into more and more relationship to it.
An example of this is my relationship with tics. I have viewed and treated my many many deer tic bites with this method. The result is that I can and do get many deer tic bites every season and they are not a problem for me. I can live in relationship with them. This is my approach with all of my patients who frame their illness as “having Lyme’s disease.” I look at their symptoms and, using Zhang Zhong-Jing’s methods for diagnosis, I see what function their tic bite disabled. Using Zhang Zhong-Jing’s methods and incredible formulas, I can restore that function. Many people think I “got rid of their Lyme’s disease.” In reality, I only restored the water wheel so the world so their own body could process it. Each person manifests this in different ways. I have seen that the methods, either with western drugs, western herbs or Chinese herbs to “get rid of” or “kill the Lyme bacteria” simply don’t work at best and often weaken the patient.
The classic formulas match functions that was weak to start or that has been messed with by the virus in a very exact way. According to the symptoms I’ve heard about, the functions that need help often match the following formulas. It would be good to have these formulas on hand and to be very well versed in how the patterns they match manifest.
Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang
She Gan Ma Huang Tang
Xiao Chai Hu Tang
Xiao Xian Xiong Tang
Ma Huang Sheng Ma Tang
It does seem that there is some impediment to the middle warmer as well, making herbs that open up the spleen function such as Huo Xiang and Xiang Ru helpful as well. Of course, we have to keep an eye on not only functions that are not open through and moving well, but also functions that are weak. Each person is different.
I hope this is helpful for us in these times.