Ep.61: Chinese Medicine with Brodie Welch
Today we’re going to dive into Chinese medicine with Brodie Welch. She is a Licensed Acupuncturist, board-certified herbalist, qi gong teacher, holistic health counselor, Aroma Acupoint Therapist™, and Chinese Medicine educator practicing in Corvallis, Oregon.
Brodie earned her Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine degree. She is a Nationally Certified Diplomate in Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Having completed a three-year teacher-training program with Dr. Liu Dong and Master Liu He at the Ling Gui International Healing Qi Gong School in Seattle, Washington, she is also a Senior Healing Qi Gong Teacher, integrating Oriental Medical theory with practical instruction in several forms of qi gong and meditation. She also holds a certification in Integrative Nutrition Health Coaching from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
Her adept palpation skills and sensitivity to the body-mind inform both her practice and instruction of Oriental Medicine. She has taught workshops to lay people as well as fellow health care providers on acupuncture, diet, herbs, psycho-emotional health, stress management, women’s health, and qi gong, nationwide and abroad. She loves helping people understand the links between the body, mind, and spirit as described in Chinese Medicine.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Check out Brodie’s Podcast on iTunes
Learn more in her Basics of Chinese Medicine Course!
Check out her higher level course: Level Up Your Life
Speaker 1: Welcome to your High Vibration Life Podcast with Robyn Openshaw, also known online as the Green Smoothie Girl. When you’re living your high vibration life, you’re healthier in every way. You’re more productive, creative, peaceful and loving. Your high vibration life is calling. Now, your host, Robyn Openshaw.
Robyn: Hey, everyone. It’s Robyn Openshaw and welcome back to your High Vibration Life. This is Episode 61 where we’re going to dive into Chinese medicine. I met Brodie Welch at a conference several months ago and, you know, sometimes on this show we talk about being attracted to someone energetically? I literally sort of pounced on her in the bathroom. I was like, “I really, for some reason, I just want to know more about you.” I’m not surprised when I learned what she is into. I’m not surprised that I was pulled to her because I had always wanted to learn more about what thousands year old science has to teach us in Chinese medicine because my exposure to it has been miraculous and has made me want to learn more. So I’m really excited to learn more from Brodie Welch. Her podcast has become one of my favorites. I listen to it regularly. She’s a fantastic interviewer and has an amazing voice that is like storybook voice. It’s called A Healthy Curiosity on iTunes, highly recommend it.
She’s a licensed acupuncturist, a board-certified herbalist, and here’s where it gets really interesting, a Chinese medicine expert. She’s all about helping us with self-care. She’s the founder of Life in Balance Acupuncture in Corvallis, Oregon, where she’s been treating patients since 2003. So welcome, Brodie.
Brodie: Robyn, thank you so much for having me on your show. You are literally one of my favorite new friends that I’ve made this year. It’s just a real honor to be here. I love sharing my love of Chinese medicine with people who are interested in it. So, thanks for that.
Robyn: Well, my pleasure and I’m really excited to dive into this because the words, the vocabulary around Chinese medicine can sound foreign and when we think something sounds foreign, we push it away and say, “Huh, that sounds strange,” but these truths that you’re going to talk to us about just because I’ve been listening to your podcast for everything that I can learn about these ancient Chinese principles, they’re universal and they’ve stood the test of time for some good reasons. So it all starts with do we say it “chi”?
Brodie: Yeah, we do say “chi.”
Robyn: Okay, and we were all taught in elementary school to never have a word that starts with Q unless there’s a U next, but it’s actually Q-I in Chinese medicine. Tell us about it. They don’t have the U following the Q like we do. So we’re just going to have to get used to the Q-I.
Brodie: Yeah, well, that’s what happens when your language is expressed in pictograms and characters and we’re trying to make sense of it and basically to translate it into English. There’s actually two systems of translating it to English, and so C-H-I is the old system; Q-I is part of the new system that Chinese speakers are like, “Wait a second. That’s actually how we would pronounce this, not the way that English people think that it should be pronounced.” So anyway, that’s neither here nor there. In any case, what qi is, is essentially all that exists in the world. So, basically, qi pervades us and the space around us, so really there’s no separation between us and our environment, which is one of the central premises of Chinese medicine, which is that if it’s out there, it’s in here. Really, the idea of health is when your energy, your qi, your life force is in balance and flowing freely.
Robyn: Okay, so that’s very much in keeping with what this whole podcast is about, is that we are energetic beings. We have energy bodies and we have emotional bodies, and energies are flowing through us as well as around us. They comprise us. There’s no real difference.
Brodie: Exactly, and really, Chinese medicine would say that … So, in the ecosystem that is you, the stuff that you can touch is a form of qi that’s more dense and solid. But your thoughts and your emotions are also a form of qi that’s obviously less substantial. So we think of, in Chinese medicine we have the three treasures: we have our vitality, our energy and our spirit. They’re basically just various levels of refinement of qi. So our consciousness or our spirit that’s said to emanate from the heart, or the heart integrates not only the emotional body, but also is the seat of understanding. It ties with different pieces of our soul together, so to speak, that that’s a form of energy that’s really important to pay attention to.
There’s also the energy that we create and use in our daily life. We get energy from the air that we breathe, from the food that we eat, and from the positive digestion of our life experience. Then there’s the vitality, the sort of like the qi that is … there’s a special word that we use in Chinese medicine called jing that refers to our essential essence, which is something that we’re born with, that we came into this life with that contains our uniqueness and our potential for who we could be in this lifetime along with the genetic cards that we’re dealt from mom and dad, and our natural proclivities, our natural gifts. The jing is also the sand in our hourglass that we dip into when we’re doing too much, like when we’re exceeding our energy budget, when we are outspending the qi that we can give back to ourselves through the food that we eat, the air that we breathe and the positive digestion of life experience.
Part of that air that we breathe that the practice of qi gong, the practice of energy cultivation is something that we take seriously in Chinese medicine where we combine our breath with our movement and we can use that to bank some additional energy. Usually that’s banked in our low abdomens where, in our, roughly, our second chakra or Hara, or dantian or center of gravity … Every culture seems to have a word for this place that’s halfway between the spine and the front of the body in the low abdomen, about a hand below the navel.
Robyn: Okay, qi gong, chakras, let’s back up for a minute. Talk a little bit about-
Brodie: Absolutely, yeah.
Robyn: Talk about chakras.
Brodie: Chakras are energy centers as defined in the Vedic system. So the traditional medicine of India, the yoga tradition, the Ayurvedic tradition identifies these energy centers along the midline, which are basically like different kinds of energy can be accessed in these different places. So in Chinese medicine, we also think about the midline of the body as being of critical importance that has different energy centers along it. But we also think about every acupoint, that an acupoint, a place where an acupuncturist might stick a needle or where someone who does acupressure would press on a point, or where we ourselves could press on points just by touching our bodies, that an acupoint is a portal of consciousness itself.
It’s like a very small chakra, it’s a very small energy center, and each point is like a key on a piano or a key on a keyboard in that … well, if we’re going to use the piano idea, that it creates a vibration in the body. That if we play like a particular combination of keys together, we create a particular chord. Maybe it’s a major C chord, but if we change that a little bit, if we press a different combination, then it’s a D major chord, or a C minor chord, or that kind of thing. As we access different points in the body with acupuncture, we’re sending a very specific message of the body to the body as to how it might organize its energy a little bit differently to create balance in the ecosystem as a whole.
Robyn: Okay, and qi gong is we think of it as being like … I think Americans think it’s like karate or judo and it’s this …
Brodie: Yeah, it’s more like Taoist yoga. So if we think about like most people are probably familiar with, seeing people doing tai chi in the park, that there’s this flowing movements. It looks a little bit like a martial art in slow motion. Tai chi is a kind of qi gong. It’s a kind of energy exercise or energy cultivation practice, but it’s being cultivated for the purposes of martial arts. It’s being cultivated for defensive purposes as opposed to for healing, for self-healing or for spiritual evolution. So we can use qi gong for all of these different things depending on what tradition you’re practicing and depending on what you’re interested in. You can bank qi for a whole lot of different reasons. The more that you practice is basically that if you’re hooking up your breath with your movement and you’re bringing your awareness to the inside of your body as opposed to the external world, then you’re creating this mind-body unity, and that’s essentially what yoga is, this yoking of the mind and the body together.
So we could think of qi gong … although I think of it as like yoga’s less sexy cousin, that’s like it’s less flashy. You don’t need any stretchy pants. Nobody is going to achieve peak qi gong pose, like a handstand or a backbend or something like that, because the movements are a lot more simple and repetitive and it’s the kind of thing where, as you breathe and move in harmony in this rhythmical way, in circles and flows and arcs, those kinds of things, that you deepen into your connection with yourself and it can be profoundly meditative. It’s great for people who want to meditate but have a difficult time sitting still.
Robyn: One of the things I’m so attracted to about not just Chinese medicine but the way you talk about it, is how integrated everything is. One of the things that feels so opposite of the world that we’ve all been brought in, this very western way of thinking, is how reductionistic our … We won’t go on a big long tangent about everything that’s wrong with western medicine, but we reduce everything, we reduce it to a set of parts. Our medical profession is we send somebody to medical school and they spend eight years learning how to deal with just kidneys and they’re a nephrologist, or there is skin doctor and they just deal with the skin, and they have absolutely no idea what was going on in the liver that showed up on the skin. The Chinese traditions don’t do anything that isn’t integrated and looking at the whole picture.
So talk about the connections between … and then there’s the outer world connection to you. You’re saying that this very fundamental principle of Chinese medicine is that what is without is within, that is all one. So talk about the rhythms of nature in our body, which most Americans is going to think those are two very different things, but how are they connected?
Brodie: Wow, that’s a big question. I will do my best to break that down. First of all, yes, it is awesome to have somebody who is trained in western medicine who can get so specific on the exact genetic thing that might be wrong or the exact specific virus or very specific thing in your gut flora that needs to be fixed. It’s like that is awesome information and could be absolutely life-saving and essential if you need it. But for a lot of things, for a lot of chronic conditions that people live with, it’s so much more important to pan back instead of to zoom in. This is where Chinese medicine I think really has its strength. Like a lot of times people will come into my practice and they’re talking about … They fill out the very long intake form that asks the 10,000 questions about every system of the body, and so they don’t necessarily see that there are connection between their insomnia and their digestive issues and their nasal congestion and their muddy thinking or their cloudy thinking all actually has to do with the same pathology.
So in Chinese medicine, we have the ability to look at each organ system … each organ system I think of as like having superpowers because we think of like, for example, our livers. We can think about the liver as this organ that hangs out under the right side of our rib cage that detoxifies our blood, that helps us digest fat, that is this like organ that we know and love in a western sense. But the liver, like every organ, also connects with a sensory organs, or in this case the liver opens to the eyes. The liver is connected to the emotion of anger and to the ability for everything in the body to unfold according to its proper timing. It’s related to what we think of as the five elements in nature. The five elements in nature, I’ll get to a little bit more in a second. But basically, if you’re refining, or actually maybe I’ll just define what I mean right now.
If you’re refining light through a prism, you can see all the different colors. So if qi is white light that you’re refining through a prism or sunlight that you’re refining through a prism, you can suddenly see red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. If qi is everything that there is, it becomes very difficult to talk about, so we need to subdivide it. The first two subdivisions of qi, we can think about yin and yang. But we can also think about these five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. These are metaphors of like what’s going on in our environment that’s mirrored inside our bodies as well. So back to the liver, for example, the liver correlates with the season of spring, the taste of sour, and the direction of upward and outward.
So, like what do those have in common? Well, when winter turns to spring, we start to see the little shoots coming up out of the ground. We go from the yin of dormancy, of wintertime when all of nature is still and slumbering and we get this new beginning. It’s the dawn of the new day. There’s energies moving upward and outward in the world as buds become emerging from tree branches, as grasses are busting their way up out of the snow. We get this upward, outward movement of nature. Similarly, we have this upward-outward movement in our bodies when we, for example, get angry. It’s to move our energy upward and outward so that we can stand up for our self.
It’ so that we can be creative, like liver energy is about upward and outward energy that allows us to expand our consciousness, that allows us to expand what’s possible for ourselves and to imagine and to have a vision that’s moving us towards something. So this upward-outward energy in the universe exists is exemplified by our liver or gallbladder energy. It exists in our bodies in both a physical way as well as a metaphysical way. In Chinese medicine, we think about all of the elements need to exist in their proper balance. So too much of that upward-outward energy, we get exhausted and depleted because we’re doing too much. We also need that balance of the downward-inward energy or the yin energy.
So in terms of the seasons of the year, we move with the elements of nature through the seasons of the year from a period of basically everything in nature goes from birth to growth to maturity to decline and to death. That’s something that happens to everything that lives. We’re a part of all that is, obviously, and we’ll go through that process in a day and we’ll go through that process in a lifetime. When we wake up in the morning, there’s the potential for what we might do that day. We get an idea, that’s the visioning, that’s the liver energy, the imagining, the goal setting.
The fire element, the actual doing of it is the yang. Then like fire becomes ashes, which creates earth, and earth is that reaping what we’ve sown and integrating it to that nourish us, to that add to our qi, and blood; and then the metal element or the autumn of the five phases is the letting go. Like what’s the autumn that leaves that can drop off versus what’s the stuff that we need to pull inward and preserve for the long winter, which is about conserving your energy. So, basically, it’s like we can go through that cycle in a day or we can go through that cycle in our entire lives. We move through the elements and the elements move within us.
Robyn: I have been really mindful of this in the last couple of years that it’s not even all just in the cycle of a lifetime. I have the spring, I have the summer of maturity, I have the fall of things withering and then the death, the old age dust process, but also like in a … It seems to me, in my life at least, and I wonder if you relate to this, there are seasons where I used to fret about them where I’m not creative. I don’t feel like I’m creating anything. I feel like I’m sitting and percolating and not getting very much done and I don’t feel like working 12 hour days and then I’ll have these seasons where I’m full of ideas and I’m making lists and I start working at six when I get up and I might leave and go work out or go eat lunch or whatever, but I just want to work and I want to create.
Nobody who works for me … I have about 20 employees … and nobody who works for me feels like they can keep up and they are just gasping for breath and they make jokes about it, and then I’ll bring something to life whether it be a new book because I’ve written a bunch of them or a big project, whatever, and then I’m just in a restful, relaxed, I don’t … and I used to beat myself up for it and I feel like, “Oh my gosh, all the creativity I’ve ever had, it’s all gone now.” I’ve learned to, and I think it’s the influence of you and a few others who have taught me this more ancient, more enduring, more holistic principles. I’ve learned to settle in and be at peace with it and recognize it as a season. I’m in one right now. I just launched this book and it was so much intense work for me and for everyone who works at Green Smoothie Girl. Right now, I just am completely happy to work my six hour day and …
Robyn: … sleep extra and not task myself with big, hard things. What do you think about that? Do you think there are smaller cycles within a life, too?
Brodie: Absolutely. Kudos to you for recognizing that like, “Wow, I just put out all this energy into the world. I was just on fire and creating and goal setting and going for it full on,” and you gave it your all, and so that’s basically, like that’s the doing. That’s the yang phase. If we think about the yin-yang symbol, that teaches us that yang changes to yin at its extremes. Just like the darkest part of the night is right before it starts to get light out. Like there is this cycle that’s within these two extremes. In yoga philosophy, it’s called Spanda, the pulsation of expansion and contraction of the heartbeat, of the breath. Everything in life has this yin and yang. We have effort follows by ease. We have upward and outward followed by downward and inward.
So you’ve just done all these upward and outward yang, that needs to change to yin. You do need to work less. You need to spend more time just letting the field go fallow, or it’s never going to be able to produce again. You need to come back to yourself to do totally rejuvenating self-care, to lie around on the couch, to do nothing, to do rejuvenating practices that make you feel good, to get super restful, to not be in a creative mode all the time because you’re not a machine. Like that’s the thing with yin and yang is that it’s not a black, rectangle next to a white rectangle, and that’s what balance is. It’s about flow and it changes all the time.
So recognizing where you are in that flow and saying, “Okay, yeah, I just rounded the crest of this massive output of energy and now it’s got to come back in. It’s going to be okay to work six hours a day.” Giving yourself that permission is the best preventative medicine you can possibly be doing, in my opinion. I think we live in a culture that prizes the yang over the yin like crazy. I think it’s actually … I would name yang addiction as the biggest problem that we face as a society because we only value the productive, the speedy, the active, the outward, the doing more, the doing it faster, and what it looks like on the outside instead of what it feels like on the inside. I see people running themselves in the ground trying to hold themselves to the same standards of maximum productivity that might have been totally right like two months ago but that are no longer right because you’re not a machine.
Being able to recognize, “Okay, yeah, like that I am allowed to tend to my being, to my inner, to my spirit as opposed to my job all the time,” like that you’re allowed to relax. You’re allowed to enjoy, you’re allowed to let go or release and surrender, to allow yourself to come back in full force with that active productivity creating, driving and striving.
Robyn: Yeah. Thanks for the permission because when you’re born an oldest child in a big family and I’m just really born ambitious. I was like organizing the neighborhood kids into little schools and doing crazy little projects. From the time I was five, my earliest memory, I had a story club in the summer and everybody had to come and have written a story and read it to everyone. I was always so mad at everyone because I would be the only one who showed up with a story. That’s fine, I’ll just read my story to you all, but … So many more of my friends were just content to just be, and so it’s been a great process to learn how to give myself permission to have the … Like right now, I’m in one. I’m in my sauna every night. Sometimes I get up in the morning and getting my sauna again. I’m not going to beat myself up about it because I know that this is cycle of life and I’m fortunate to live in a place where there are very distinct seasons.
Right now, my front yard is full of leaves and I love the smell of decaying leaves, and I love the fall. I love the spring. I love the summer. I can’t say that I love the winter but I appreciate what it’s there for, and building up snow so that we have water in the spring and we can start life again. So I love the metaphors. I was an English major in college so, of course, I love metaphors. But talk a little bit more about another concept, which is so foundational to Chinese medicine, that western thinkers, American thinkers might think is about female and male. I know that that’s like there’s an element of truth there, but explain this … You talked about yang addiction. Yin and yang, will you talk about, is it really male and female energy? Flesh that out for us.
Brodie: Yeah. Male and female, those can be pretty charged words in our culture because we are defining what that means socially. But really, what yin and yang are all about, again, if we look at qi as being all that is and yin and yang being the two basic subdivisions of qi, it is this archetypal energies that keep each other in balance and you can’t have one without the other. So yin-yang pairs include things like hot and cold, up and down, inside and outside, doing and being, so we can get a sense that … actually, if you want to make this real for yourself, if you imagine the yin-yang symbol, that the black part of the swirly shapes that are intertwined with each other, the black part is the yin.
So the yin is that which is cooling, moistening and still and being. It’s the energy of restfulness. So it’s like the energy of nighttime as opposed to the energy of yang, which is that which is … That’s the light part, so like light, like the sun, like the daytime, which is the active time of day, which is the hot time of day, which is the moving time of day. Those are really the two opposites that we’re talking about. So if we’re thinking about active and passive, if we’re thinking about that … certainly we all know women who are way more active than a lot of men, so basically we all have yin and yang within us. if we just wanted to find them as feminine and masculine, like those terms, we can think about it as like the yin is the receptive and the yielding, and also that there is a biological component right there. We just think about like the genitalia issue of gender. The male is the active upward moving principle and the feminine is the receptive.
So, really, it’s like if we want to just get biology on it, we can think about it like that. But, really, it’s the energetics of life that we all need a balance of yin and yang. Like, Robyn, you were just saying you’ve always had a yang personality. You’ve always been a doer. You’ve been the doer and the shaker, the initiator, the person that you’re a doer. You’re much more comfortable in that mode than you are in a yin mode, and like knowing that about yourself can help you keep yourself in balance. So just like looking at like that your own yin and yang balance, you can’t have day followed by day followed by day followed by night followed by day followed by day followed by … It’s like it doesn’t work that way. You need day followed by night. You need activity followed by rest. You need doing and being to both be something that you value or you end up burning yourself out.
So when we think about masculine and feminine, it’s like, okay, I myself am a recovering yang addict. It’s like I still definitely identify a lot with how much I get done in a day, with how much I’m able to accomplish, with how many people I’m able to help and how many just … I’m much more comfortable in that mode than I am in doing my actual self-care that I recommend to all my patients. But it’s at the same time when I shift gears, when I can appreciate just how good it feels to do my yoga, to do my meditations, to do qi gong, to just take a walk without counting steps or like trying to maximize my speed or without listening to a podcast on one a half speed while I’m doing that.
When I just allow myself these being experiences, there is a kind of reclaiming of the feminine in that. There is a reclaiming of that it’s okay to just feel and to be in a body or to honor my emotion or to honor that which is … like to value myself based on my inner innate qualities as opposed to the outer. That’s really like we can think about that as our culture in general honoring the masculine stuff and really dishonoring and not valuing enough that which we consider yin.
Robyn: That’s beautiful. Tell me about how … you’ve touched on this, but every organ in Chinese medicine has a physical function, which we understand that well in western ways of thinking. But it also corresponds to an emotion and an aspect of the psyche. Did you want to say anything more about that?
Brodie: Sure, yeah. So it’s the kind of thing where this also … This is the kind of thing where Chinese medicine, I think, it’s really important to know, people think about acupuncture as being a great tool for treating pain or treating fertility or treating migraines, like whatever it is that these various physical conditions, but I think it’s also really important for people to know that you can use points in your body and you can use Chinese medicine principles to help with different aspects of psycho-emotional health as well.
So, for example, your sense of who you are, your sense of confidence, your sense of having your ability to exert your will in the world in a powerful way, we associate all of that with the kidneys. Kidneys are undermined by fear. Fear will deplete the kidney energy and kidneys house the Will, with a capital W. So your Will, your destiny, your purpose, like that your … If you believe that you have a purpose or a destiny, it’s said to be living in your kidneys and your ability to exert your will in the world is obviously related to … Like you can’t do that if you have too much fear going on. So if you’re the kind of person who like, you want to write a book or you want to start a business but you’re not sure, like you’re plagued by self-doubt, you don’t know that you’re enough, you don’t know that you … You question the value of yourself, really. You wonder whether or not you have it in you to take this on. That’s a kidney issue in Chinese medicine.
So we can treat that by … Like, first of all, there are points that we can access. We could use kidney three, for example, on the inner ankle. We could anoint that point with an essential oil to just say, “Hey, body, like strengthen this kind of energy.” We can actually rub the physical kidney area in the lower back. Just infuse it with some loving qi. There’s ways of … Kidney corresponds with the water element so we might go watch a waterfall or you just meditate on the fact that a river carves a canyon with the passive power of being itself. That’s a way that we can bring in these elements of nature to strengthen our own psycho-emotional health and these principles. That’s water element connects with the kidneys. It connects with purpose. The wood element connects with liver, which connects with the creativity and also the function, as I mentioned before, the movement of upward and outward means righteous indignation.
It means we can stand up for ourselves and assert ourselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean exploding at somebody, but it definitely does mean that, for example, if you find that you are hanging on to a lot of resentments, that’s liver-gallbladder. One medicine for resentment is actually speaking your truth, being assertive, using that upward-outward energy of the liver. If that’s something that you’ve noticed as a pattern your whole life, you wish you could stand up for yourself, you wish yourself could speak your truth, and as a result, because you don’t, you end up harboring a lot of congealed, stuck energy, that’s keeping you tense, like that absolutely will have a physical effect in your body, probably tight neck and shoulders. Probably the inability to let go can actually lead to a bitter taste in your mouth, bitterness on the emotional level can lead to bitterness on the bile level, like the liver-gallbladder.
So that’s a way that very explicitly we could rub liver 14 underneath in the sixth rib space underneath the nipples and just under the brow line for women. If you rub that point, it’s great for letting go. So there’s this really concrete practical self-care things that we can use from Chinese medicine. We have all these points all over the body we can access. The magic is not in a needle; it’s in the point itself and in the consciousness in the body. We can, with intentionality, use these points to create balance and not only the physical level but on the psycho-emotional level as well.
So to just start to run through the other organ system: the heart has to do with the emotion of joy, with spontaneity, with our ability to be present and that’s the fire element. We could use fire points for that and heart points for that. We can use spleen and stomach has to do … Spleen and stomach is our ability to feel nourished by life. It also has to do with the spleen is our ability to hone our intention and has a lot to do with our ability to learn things intellectually, to focus. So if you’re in school, if you’re trying to assimilate new information, you’re using a lot of spleen energy. So just knowing that, “Hey, you shouldn’t eat when you’re studying because your spleen is the captain of the digestive team. You’re trying to assimilate information at the same time as you’re trying to digest food, that’s digestion on multiple levels at the same time.” That’s not going to work so well. That’s going to create some stagnant energy. That’s going to create perhaps problems for your digestive system and, of course, we’re not what we eat. We’re what we can digest. So being able to pay attention to that.
Then, lastly, the lungs and large intestine are the metal element. The lungs take us into our intuitive body, our sense of knowing as kind of our animal souls. Our sense of, “Oh, there’s danger. I sense that this person isn’t really safe to be around” or like, “I’m really drawn to this person.” That’s actually a function of the corporeal soul, of this aspect that we associate with lungs and large intestine. Lungs and large intestine also has to do with our faculty of discernment and our ability to let go of that which no longer serves, just as the lungs take in something useful and we let go of the carbon dioxide. Our large intestine obviously lets go of the waste that we can no longer make use of.
So being able to really detoxify our lives, to let go of what’s no longer serving and to discern what’s useful and what isn’t, that faculty can be strengthened by lungs and large intestines. So there are points for that, and so really, Chinese medicine is essentially applied philosophy. We can use acupuncture; we can use Chinese herbs; we can use diet; we can use lifestyle; we can, as I mentioned, anoint points with essential oils. There’s so many ways. We can use, of course, these elements of nature. We can just go be around these elements and take in just basically through us, as most is, their lesson for our bodies. So it really is … It’s this complete system of understanding the world around us and the world within us as ecosystems where like increases like and where opposites balance.
Robyn: Wow, I just feel like we’ve gotten like this 300 level college course down to the level of a digest and I feel so grateful that we’ve just learned so much about the basic principles of Chinese medicine. Obviously, this is a huge, huge body of work that we’re asking you. It’s always hard to take something that’s big and complex and make it sleek and simple. I know that we’ve maybe essentialized, but I feel like we’re getting the 50 master works in psychology one hour audio book here. It’s great. But let’s talk about one more principle, and then I want to-
Robyn: Then I want to make this directly relevant to how we apply this kind of thinking to our lives. How do people work with you? How do people learn more about this if it’s really speaking to them? If you’re listening to this and you’re drawn to it like I am, then the exciting news is you live in the digital age, you can learn lots more. But talk a little bit about the five phase, five element theory and about these elements of nature that reside within us. I think we’ve all heard references to this, the five elements, but talk a little bit about that, and then where I’m going to go next is how to apply that.
Brodie: Okay, sure. Well, I have touched on five phases a little bit already, in terms of the five phases basically are that birth, growth, maturity, decline, and death that are symbolized by water, wood, fire, earth and metal. So that’s what we call the creation cycle in Chinese medicine. So that like you water a plant and it grows. You chop down the tree, the wood becomes fire. The fire turns to ashes, which becomes earth. From the earth, we can get metals, we can dig them out of the earth, and metals enrich the water. So that’s the way that energy flows. If we overlay the organ systems onto that, the kidney and bladder support the liver and gallbladder, like the water supports wood. The liver-gallbladder and the wood elements support the heart and small intestine and the fire element. Fire supports earth, so heart-small intestine supports spleen-stomach. Spleen-stomach are the mother of the large intestine and the lungs.
That’s like the way that energy moves in the body. So, for example, if somebody has … Well, let’s just use this example that we’ve been going with, like if Robyn, if you were not paying attention to where you were in the cycle of the five phases, if you were not acknowledging, I just did this huge output of energy, I really need to kick it back into a lower gear and slow it down, take some saunas, take some time out, that basically … So you’re in an upward-outward driving and striving mode. If you had been cutting yourself short on sleep, if you had been stressing with like anything that might have gone wrong as you were launching your book or just anything that taxes your nervous system over a period of time, that’s basically an example of the liver qi would start to stagnate. The liver energy that’s supposed to be flowing freely instead starts getting tight and tense, and so then you might … and you might be making choices that are depleting you.
Essentially, what we’ve got going on there is that the child, the liver energy, is throwing a temper tantrum and it’s draining from its mother, the kidneys. So your reservoir of that energy that’s supposed to support you, we could consider that like the adrenals roughly in western medicine, are going to get lower and lower. If that happens over time, you could start to see other symptoms develop. You could see hormone imbalance. You could see insomnia. You could start to see overwhelm and “Can I do this?” and fear creeping in and all of that.
So it’s the thing where a problem in one area could lead to a problem in another area. That stuck liver qi in the form of tension could rise up to the head and create headaches or it could overact on, like some send some wood bust up through the earth, wood controls earth, you might notice that if you’re super tensed and stressed, that that will attack your digestive system and so you’ll get problems like irritable bowel syndrome or acid reflux, or like just problems arising in the digestive system that have really nothing to do with the health of the stomach or the health of the spleen or the pancreas. They have much more to do with the stagnant liver qi, aka the stress.
Really, it’s about looking at how are all of these elements, looking at the creation cycle and the control cycle; water puts out fire, fire melts metal, metal chops down the trees; trees bust up through the earth; and earth damps the water. So there’s a way … Like there’s this diagram that looks like a pentagram, like a circle with a star in it that outlines the relationship between these different elements. So the job of an acupuncturist or a Chinese medicine practitioner is to look at the whole picture, look at all of the symptoms that are showing up in the same body, and try to make sense of what’s going on here.
Something that we see because we live in such a stressed out time compressed society is we often see that liver qi stagnation. Basically, that’s like too much energy pent-up in the wood element, that can lead to … It can harass the heart. People can get anxiety. People can get insomnia. It can drain from the kidneys and you can get the hormonal problems. It can overact on the earth element. You get digestive issues. Or it can rebel against the element that’s supposed to be controlling it, which is metal, the lungs and large intestine. Somebody might get frequent colds or bronchitis or something like that.
So there’s ways that the different energies of the different organ systems keep each other in check, like a big game of rock-paper-scissors, but also support one another and pass the energy along to the next one in line.
Robyn: So interesting. So if people want to learn more about this and they want to use these principles that you got an advanced degree in, but they’re all new to us, but we feel like it might be key in helping us be healthier and happier, tell us where they can learn more about you and jump into your group coaching program. Tell us all about that.
Brodie: I would love to. So, of course, A Healthy Curiosity, my podcast is one way to get connected with me and just hear about some of this stuff on an ongoing basis. I also have two main offerings for people that can’t work with me in clinic one-on-one. I teach the basics of Chinese medicine as an information, a deep dive, if you really are interested in all the stuff that I’m talking about. I consider myself a translator. I’ve sat at the feet of masters. I’ve studied this stuff for … this is my 14th year in practice, but I’ve done the deep dive into Chinese medicine and studied it at length, both acupuncture and herbs and qi gong and the lifestyle and diet pieces, and one of my goals is to make that accessible, to bring it down from the mountain tops and make it accessible out of the halls of people who are just studying to be Chinese medical providers.
So that’s the basics of Chinese Medicine class. I run that a couple of times a year. That’s just all about information. You learn as much as a first year acupuncture student would except without the biomedicine and things like that. So there’s acupoints, there is meridians, there is the theory and all that stuff, the foods, and that’s the deep dive.
The other thing that I’ve got going on is much less heady. It’s much more about implementation. Because what I see over and over again is that we all … that basically that Chinese medicine is all about self-care and prevention of these diseases of modernity that are really easily done when we do things like have a body-mind practice, when we meditate, when we exercise, when we get enough sleep, when we eat a whole foods diet, mainly plant-based, when we have healthy relationship with stress, when we allow all of our emotions to be. So I have a course that’s basically about helping people bridge the gap between what they know they should be doing for their health and actually doing it. That program is called Level Up or Level Up Your Life. That is … now, people, I’m actually evolving that so people have the opportunity to have a group … It’s like self-care boot camp or self-care support group that’s rooted in the principles of Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and yoga.
We do like a habit each week. We make a small change that everybody identifies. It’s like a small, doable change. When that becomes the new normal, we take the next step. If you’re like really ready to like, “Okay, I’m sick of intending to change my relationship with stress. I’m sick of trying to … I’m ready to be over my yang addiction; I’m ready to honor my yin,” then I would be super excited to connect with you. If you go to BrodieWelch.com, it’s Brodie with an I-E, and Welch with a C-H, there’s a page for Level Up and there’s a place where you can schedule a free discovery call with me and see if you’re a good fit for the program because it’s … Anyway, that’s just what I’m super passionate about right now is seeing people make all the changes because there’s so much information out there and it all boils down to the same stuff. So like dialing in those core competencies of self-care, feeling like you have the right to be at the top of your to-do list is really, I think, what it takes. So that is … and I would love to connect with anybody for whom this feels like it really resonates.
Robyn: Well, this has been a brilliant overview of what Chinese medicine has to offer us. Couldn’t be more difficult than what most of us were brought up with and the way we were educated, and so I’m very, very grateful. Brodie Welch, thank you so much, and I hope everybody goes to check her out and learn more from her and as I’ve been enjoying doing. Thanks so much for being on the show.
Brodie: It’s been such a pleasure, Robyn. Thanks for having me.