TO ALL OUR READERS:
May you have a life full of health, love, and longevity.
“Lie still, Marianne. Relax.”
I barely felt the gentle push as the needle entered my toe.
“Good. Take a deep breath. Wonderful.”
I nodded and steadied my breathing, eyes transfixed on a plastic statue of an odd little man perched on the bookcase. Naked and small in stature, he was covered head to toe in strange little red lines and black points. His lifeless eyes bored into me as the acupuncturist expertly maneuvered a row of needles up and down my body.
“Close your eyes. Let go.” The doctor smiled. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She dimmed the lights and closed the door.
As the darkness settled over me, I asked myself once again, How did I get here? How did I end up so far from the doctors I had always trusted?
The whole thing began a few months earlier with a flu that felt like a lot of other flus. Fever. Lack of energy. Surely it would go away with some good nights’ rest. But in a few short days the fever had given way to worse symptoms: acute exhaustion, dehydration, and vertigo. Suddenly, every bone was throbbing, every joint was on fire. My skin felt as if I had belly flopped on a barrel cactus. Some days I lived in a floating mist, unable to complete the simplest task; other days, I couldn’t get out of bed at all.
My situation had gone from miserable to desperate. Never could I have imagined being this sick. The mere brush of fabric, the faintest tickle of bedsheet against my skin was excruciating. Driving was nearly impossible, and finally even eating became difficult. In a matter of weeks, the vibrant rosy-cheeked woman in the mirror had transformed into a chalky white shell. And as my body deteriorated, so did my mental state. How could this be? What horrible disease was attacking me?
The first doctor I visited recommended more rest; the second, a course of antibiotics. Both were pleasant, concerned, but neither treatment had any effect. A specialist even put me through a battery of blood and hormonal tests. Yet again, the results were inconclusive.
Beta-blockers were prescribed for the pain, but without saying so, my Western doctors were throwing up their hands. The closest anyone could come to a diagnosis was a condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome. As the months rolled by, it felt as if I had been abandoned by medical science, condemned to exist with this agony for the rest of my life. I resigned myself to being a prisoner in my own body, unable to live the way I always had.
Then, one day, a ray of hope appeared. While I was at my therapist’s office, she mentioned Esther Ting, a Chinese doctor in Santa Monica who had successfully treated a number of her patients. This doctor, she told me, was getting positive results with chronic fatigue as well as other stubborn and often serious illnesses. My therapist had even taken her own daughter there—a teenager who had been diagnosed with an untreatable condition. The results had been nothing short of spectacular.
A Chinese doctor? I didn’t exactly race to the phone. Wasn’t this Chinese medicine the stuff of New Age disciples and aged hippies? As a former researcher, I believed in well-documented evidence supported by Western medical institutions. I found it fundamentally difficult to accept that a handful of needles and dried herbs could possibly heal an illness as serious as mine.
Ultimately, though, exhaustion and pain became the deciding factors. With nothing left to lose, the appointment was made. I had to try Chinese medicine.
The following morning I gathered my medical files and set out for this frontier of healing. The first signs were promising. Instead of battling for pricey parking atop a medical high-rise, I found myself in a leafy lot adjacent to a tidy office. Inside, the soothing tinkling of a tiny Chinese bell greeted me, my nostrils instantly seized by the earthy smell of herbs wafting through the waiting room.
A quiet, older Chinese man nodded hello, and handed me a few medical forms to fill out. He was Esther’s longtime assistant and pharmacist. I would come to know Mr. Ma well.
After settling on the ornate yellow and red silk couch, I took a moment to savor the pots of bamboo, the fresh green tea and ready bowls of Chinese candies. Then, before I could even finish the forms, Esther herself burst out of an examination room. She wore a lab coat and smiled cheerily. “Come, come,” she called, and waved me to a seat in her inner office.
Instead of holding forth behind an imposing desk, Esther clearly wanted to work up close and personal. Before I knew it, she was patting my hand, turning my palm upward and placing it on a wrist pad on her desk.
Esther began to work her fingers gently up and down my arm, starting from the wrist. Whatever she was doing, at least it wasn’t painful.
I peered past her into the examining room. There didn’t seem to be any of the usual devices to test heart rate or blood pressure. In fact, there was no equipment of any kind, just a small marble waterfall, trickling pleasantly in the background.
With both of my wrists in her hands, Esther looked deeply into my eyes and remarked on the redness of my cheeks. Then she opened my mouth. But instead of looking down my throat, she examined the tip of my tongue, commenting on the shape and the color. Okay. That’s different.
As she continued to feel and listen, Esther peppered me with questions about my symptoms. How severe were they? How often had I experienced them?
Good. I was ready for this. Armed with X-rays and MRIs, blood panels and endocrine reports, I recited a litany of medical stats. Esther listened carefully, nodding all the while. Then she asked some odd questions:
What time of day did the nerve pains occur? Did I crave warmth? Was I more comfortable in the cold? Did I get thirsty a lot? How much food did I eat? Hot or cold?
I thought it was nice that she was so thorough, but wondered what any of this had to do with my condition. And how did she correctly determine I suffered painful menstrual periods, without even glancing at my charts?
After nearly ten minutes of these gentle palpitations and questions, Esther announced she was ready to discuss my diagnosis. Really? That quickly?
“Marianne,” she began, “I am very confident I can heal your physical symptoms. It’s not your extreme fatigue that troubles me. It is the stored accumulation of emotions I am reading in your body.” Then she leaned closer. “Are you the oldest in your family? Because it’s clear you have deeply held feelings of responsibility that have never been resolved and are affecting your liver.”
Esther had only met me fifteen minutes ago. How did she figure out I was the oldest of three kids, and what on earth did my liver have to do with responsibility? And how was it possible she could get all that from reading my pulse?
I was about to respond when Esther patted my hand. “Marianne, listen to me. Up until now you have treated your body like an old car: When it got sick, you patched it together just to keep it on the road. But now the engine that keeps you going is broken, and the reason is simple. You have been holding onto anger and frustration for a very long time.”
She explained that, over time, the corrosive effects of these emotions had attacked my body’s organs and weakened their ability to function. This was made worse by accumulated stress as well as poor food and lifestyle choices.
“Your current symptoms are merely signals, Marianne. Your body has been talking to you but you haven’t listened. Well, now it’s time to overhaul that old car. Give me the gift of time and together we’ll get the job done.”
Over the following weeks and months, Esther and I worked closely together and my symptoms gradually eased. With every office visit I learned more about the causes of my crisis. She explained the vital role my liver played in balancing my body and why emotions are intimately connected to physical health. I learned the mechanics behind the “energy readings” that Esther performed along my arm and how they could reveal the inner health of organs and blood.
My illness wasn’t just a random disorder; it was a warning signal. Somewhere along the way, I had let my emotional and physical reserves run down. I had become disconnected from my body. All of the “random” colds, flus, and infections that had dogged me from childhood were messages that I needed to change. Ignoring them meant there would be consequences when my immune system lost its ability to fight back.
Identifying a life-changing moment isn’t always easy, but for me it happened while sitting in Esther’s office staring at that naked statue. Somehow those crazy lines across the figure’s plastic skin pointed to a journey I had to pursue. Tired of being sick, I handed myself over to an ancient healing tradition that to this day continues to amaze me with its power and effectiveness, even in the midst of the most modern medical discoveries.
I began my journey into Chinese medicine skeptical of its methods, wary that a three-thousand-year-old healing tradition could possibly have any relevance to my twenty-first-century life. But eight years later, after my own success story, and hearing the many stories of Esther’s patients, I am a true believer.
Esther’s lifelong dream is to bring Chinese medicine to the world, and I feel extremely fortunate to help her fulfill her purpose. In this book Esther and I want to introduce you to this ancient practice so that you may experience the same miraculous road to total health that we have. You will understand the root cause of most illnesses, and how they may be prevented using simple tools and techniques. And if you do get sick, you’ll know exactly what to expect when visiting a Chinese physician.
So join us on this healing adventure. There’s no better guide than Esther herself, and the ageless wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine.
Introduction: A Doctor’s Journey to Total Healing
This is a simple book. It’s about health and healing. It’s about the power of emotion. It’s about preventing illness and how to get well.
After practicing Chinese medicine for over forty years, and nursing tens of thousands of patients back to health, I know one thing to be true: People want to be healthy, but they’ve forgotten how.
How can I be so sure? Because I’ve been there myself. I know what it feels like to have your body break down. And I have also experienced the incredible feeling that comes when the body heals from within, when energy returns and brings with it a new lease on life. For me, this journey began thirty years ago, when I almost lost my life.
In the fall of 1979, I had everything I could have hoped for. I was a popular doctor, with a thriving career at the local hospital in Shanghai. Although I loved my job, I was also devoted to my newborn son, Peter. It seemed as if life couldn’t be more perfect—until that cool fall morning when I was jolted awake with pains so severe I could barely breathe. My lower abdomen was hemorrhaging badly, and within hours I found myself in my own hospital, helplessly immobile. I was losing vast amounts of blood, and the doctors needed to operate immediately. The diagnosis was dire: a large cyst in my fallopian tubes. Cancer.
As a physician and a descendent of a long line of Chinese doctors, I knew my life was in grave danger. Lying there in the darkness of my hospital room, trembling and weak, I thought about my family and young son, whom I adored and who depended on me. I still had such a bright future ahead, and so many things I wanted to accomplish.
Now I was the patient, and I had to make an important choice. Would I continue to fight? Or would I turn myself over to something greater and choose Western surgery?
By the time they wheeled me into the operating room, I had put myself in the surgeon’s hands. I let go of my fear and my pain and surrendered to whatever fate had in store.
For the first time in a long while, I felt completely at peace.
The Path to Recovery
The news was good. My doctors pronounced the surgery successful, and after a course of both Western and Chinese treatments, I was soon recuperating at home. But the shock of my condition and my inability to read the signs continued to puzzle me.
I reread some of my old medical texts while reflecting on the work of my great-grandfather. His name was Ding Ganren, one of the most famous doctors in Chinese history, and personal physician to the last emperor of Shanghai. Known throughout China for his ability to read the human body, he was said to diagnose patients with infallible accuracy.
While staring at his picture, I found myself in a quandary. Even though I was clearly not yet as experienced as he, I had been working daily to perfect my diagnostic skills. Why had my own illness caught me so completely off guard? Why didn’t I see the signs?
Suddenly, it was as if my great-grandfather, himself, was whispering in my ear: Your body has been sending you signs. You just weren’t listening. Your physical symptoms are just an outer manifestation of your emotions.
My great-grandfather, Ding Ganren
In an instant, I understood. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Chinese physicians discovered an important truth. When traumatic events happen, our body often traps those raw emotions in a physical form. By hiding and repressing unwanted feelings, we physically harm our body in the same way a toxic drug can slowly poison us.
I had been healing patients nearly every day for years, and yet all the while had been ignoring one of the most important principles of traditional Chinese medicine: the connection between health and emotion.
If I wanted to truly recover and follow in the footsteps of my family’s honored medical tradition, I would have to learn to read my own body. I would have to look into my past and understand how it had affected my health. Only then could I truly heal my present and go on to discover my life’s mission.
Clues from the Past
China in the 1940s and ’50s was a turbulent time. World War II had just ended and a great famine was sweeping the country. I grew up as the oldest of five children, and my life was marked with a series of personal and family crises.
My parents, Dr. Ying Yu Wen and Dr. Ding Ji Hua, as well as my grandfather, Dr. Ding Zhongying, were all traditional Chinese practitioners, and ran a traditional medical clinic from our home on West Nanjing Street in the heart of Shanghai. Sadly, traditional Chinese practices were losing popularity in favor of Western medicine, and many clinics had closed.
In spite of having so many doctors in the family, I was a sickly child and contracted diphtheria. This was followed by a number of viral diseases and, eventually, tuberculosis. Using a combination of acupuncture and herbs, my family was able to cure me, but worse fortune was still to come.
At that time many doctors were called to practice medicine in far-flung provinces, and one day we got word that my father had been chosen. We were devastated, but there was no choice: he was obligated to go.
I’ll never forget that gray November day in 1958, when I stood at the downtown station, watching my father board the train. I knew I would miss him terribly, and yet with four brothers and sisters to feed and a clinic still to run, we had to do what was necessary to survive.
My mother loved us very much but she had the clinic to run, so my sister and I took over the household. We cooked, cleaned, picked up herbal prescriptions, and did whatever was necessary.
A few years went by and traditional Chinese medicine slowly crept back into favor. In 1962, I was proud to be accepted into an elite medical program for the sons and daughters of well-known physicians, and there I began my own studies.
For my father, though, it was too late. He returned to us some years later in ill health, and died in my arms at the age of fifty from stomach cancer.
At eighteen years old, I contracted tuberculosis. My chubby cheeks are a result of the disease.
Burying the Past
Although we missed my father dearly, there was little time to mourn his passing. If I was going to become a doctor like my parents, I knew I had to bury my feelings and work hard.
In the following six years, I attended classes and studied late into the night, determined to do my best and continue my family’s legacy.
My work at the hospital was exhilarating but exhausting. As luck would have it, I befriended a young man at the hospital pharmacy, who asked me to marry him. My parents approved of the match. As was customary at the time, I moved in with my husband’s family, and soon afterward I gave birth to my dear son, Peter.
Now I was juggling career as well as the responsibilities of husband, son, and in-laws. And still I continued to bury the sadness and grief of my father’s death. Somehow, though, I managed to keep it all under control—until that terrible fall morning, when I almost lost my life.
Lessons for Lasting Health
Looking back, my illness wasn’t a mystery. The cancerous cyst was a physical manifestation of the underlying stresses that had built up over the years. On the outside I was striving to be the best doctor possible, but on the inside I was masking a profound weakness. I had pushed myself beyond my limits, bottling up powerful feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness, until they expressed themselves in another way.
My father, Dr. Ding Ji Hua, at age forty-nine, shortly before his death
Three years later, I arrived in my new hometown of Santa Monica. Here, I found bright sunshine and ocean breezes. The mountains were nearby and I could walk to my office each day. This was the new beginning I had been searching for—the chance to finally take care of myself.
Each week I resolved to feel the sun’s rays, to savor cool winds coming off the ocean, and to hike the mountain trails. I even created a daily exercise routine to move and strengthen my vital energy network and circuitry. Gradually, all of that pent-up grief began to dissolve. By releasing those heavy feelings, my body was finally taking the path to a strong and balanced Qi, or life force.
Now seventy-two years old, I have been cancer and illness free for thirty-five years. Despite a busy practice, I still feel healthy and full of energy.
What changed? My attitude. By altering the way I thought about my body, I transformed my life and my health.
The Three Principles
Today, my clinic in California treats patients with severe illnesses, some with conditions worse than mine had been. Like me, they want to know how it could have happened to them. They want to be healthy again and lead rich, productive lives.
Many times, when talking to new patients, I recognize the same telltale signs from all those years ago in China. Just as I did, they are working too hard, aren’t getting enough sleep, and are burying feelings of frustration, sadness, and grief.
Many have already been treated by a long list of doctors, have spent a fortune on tests and medications, yet they’re still sick and unhappy.
When I ask them to tell me about their body, they often look at me blankly. “I don’t have time to pay attention to my body. Just fix me up. My children need me. My boss is relentless. I’m lucky if I make it through the day.”
That’s when I pass along three lessons I learned so many years ago. They’re simple yet life changing, and after sharing them with tens of thousands of patients, I want to share them with you:
• Listen to your body. Your body is always trying to communicate. Don’t ignore the warning signs.
• Forgive and forget your past. Live in the present. Holding on to the past is a major cause of illness.
• Love your body. Your body is a sacred gift. Treat it wisely and you will always experience the health and vitality that is your birthright.
What to Expect
In the chapters ahead, we will explore why you get sick and how to get better. We’ll look at the human body and its intricate network of energy channels and power centers. We’ll present simple, affordable healing foods, recipes, and herbs, and introduce invigorating new physical and mental exercises. We’ll explore the powerful visualization tools and a host of meditative techniques and poses. You’ll learn how to maximize your daily energy reserves, as well as discover helpful seasonal tips to create healthy, new lifestyle habits. And if you feel in need of professional expertise, we’ll take you through the examination procedure of a Chinese doctor, so you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Finally, you’ll meet others who have made their own journeys to health. Sprinkled throughout are success stories drawn from over forty years of practice, including that of my coauthor, Marianne, who shares the journey of her own healing.
Total health has to do with the power you have over your fears and anxieties, and with your attitude toward getting well. So join me as we explore this gentle, ancient form of healing, and remember, it’s never too late to enjoy the life you so richly deserve.
Understand How Your Body Works
Identifying Your Body’s Power Centers
What does vibrant health mean to you? Running that marathon you’ve always wanted to enter? Picking up your child without excruciating back pain? Waking each morning rested and full of energy?
As a Chinese doctor I believe that the road to health doesn’t begin with a pill or an X-ray, or even a visit to the doctor’s office it begins with you. It begins with understanding your unique physical and character traits, the very essence of what makes you tick.
Chinese medicine is based on the principle that each person has a unique blueprint, an elaborate web of physical and emotional interactions and processes.
Your behavior, how you think, how you move—all are indicators of essential patterns and rhythms inside the body. These rhythms are sensitive and can easily become unbalanced long before any symptoms are visible on the outside.
To understand how Chinese medicine treats the body, it’s necessary to use a whole new language. Western medicine tends to emphasize the specific purpose and function of each part of the human anatomy, whereas the Chinese physician looks at health as an interconnected system, every element playing a part in the whole.
It’s been said that the best way to understand the relationship between these two healing traditions is by visualizing them as nothing more than different maps of the same surface. Each map shows the way to a healthier future, yet they approach the journey from parallel directions.
To see just how they differ set aside what you already know and journey back to the Han dynasty in China as it existed three thousand years ago.
The Five Power Centers
In ancient China, medicine was considered an art form. Many of the medical texts were written in a lyrical style, making them great masterworks of their time. Works included clever analogies and elaborate stories that went into great detail describing the human body. No wonder, thousands of years later, we find these metaphorical descriptions remarkably effective in helping us explain the role each organ plays.
Among these masterpieces is the Nei Jing, one of the world’s first medical textbooks. Written in 200 BC, it looked at the body as a vast and mighty kingdom, complete with legions of guards to keep disease at bay.
The master rulers of this body-kingdom consist of five major organs—the Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung, and Kidney. These five primary power centers, or Zhang organs, are supported by six secondary organs (or Fu organs). Each fulfills an important job within your body and each is connected in a unique way (see table 1-1).
The Masters: Zhang Organs
The leader or king of this internal realm is the Heart, and it has an essential function: to circulate Blood throughout your body in a steady, even flow. If your king is strong, your country will flourish. You are alert and aware. You are able to handle difficult situations and make wise decisions. A powerful Heart is fundamental to maintaining the rest of the kingdom in perfect harmony.
The queen of your kingdom is the Lungs. They support the Heart and govern the body’s respiration. They also control your vital life force, or what we call Qi (pronounced chee). Think of Qi as the electricity that runs through your body. Qi is present in every living person, animal, plant, and organism in the universe. It is life’s most basic energy force. When the Lungs are balanced and healthy, you breathe fully and deeply and your energy is strong. By bringing oxygen in, this organ enriches the Blood, ensuring that your energy reserves stay vibrant and healthy.
Next is the commander of your Blood, the Liver