Traditional Chinese Medicine gets a bit of stick and can be looked down upon by a lot of GPs who either lack the knowledge or the understanding as to what it can offer. However, this branch of medicine is growing exponentially. There are TCM centres in most if not all major cities as well as in quite a few of the smaller ones.
I have to admit that my only knowledge of TCM stems from the old Hong Kong Kung Fu movies, where the master of a martial arts school always seemed to double as a doctor. To the Eastern mindset this could be interpreted as the master living by the Yin and the Yang principle. To my Western cynical mind, I thought that this would be a great way for masters to generate their own patients! However, in modern times TCM is more popular than ever. I wanted to find out if there was actually anything in it and if so, could it really benefit the martial artist?
I attended the Clinic of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was as recommended by my wife’s chiropractor (lazy journalism, sorry!) but after a bit of research on the old internet found that it had a great reputation. The clinic is situated in Tudor Street just outside Cardiff city centre. As soon as I walked through the door I felt a certain ambiance, however this may be due to the bottle of famous fizzy drink that I had drank a bit too quickly. Inside, the walls were covered with various charts that mapped out the human body, highlighting its meridian points and direction of energy channels with the mind boggling complexity of the London underground map. Along one wall, were hundreds of little draws that contained all the traditional ingredients that could be mixed up to apply to whatever ailment afflicted you, from colds to constipation to cancer.
Lynn Griffiths, a white-British women who is skilled in Traditional Chinese Medicine while also being an expert of Tai Chi and Qi Gong came out and welcomed me. Lynn was a softly spoken person that appeared calm and comfortable within herself. This rubbed off on me and I found myself speaking slowly and quietly in return.
She gladly showed me the tools of her trade, including the little glass bowls (cups), acupuncture needles and some of the traditional herbs. The main basic tool that she emphasised was that on the initial examination.
“We don’t claim to replace Western medicine, however we provide a holistic service to work alongside it or as an alternative where it has failed. We get to the root of the condition, not just the symptoms and have people coming in here for one thing but it regularly turns out to be the result of some other problem. We assess the person as a whole and not just focus on one part.
During the diagnosis, we take the blood pressure and on a recent patient found hers was high and so put the acupuncture needles in certain places to bring the energy down in order to bring the blood pressure down. It depends on the problem. Sometimes we need to detoxify the body sometimes we need to tolify the body, eliminate the toxins and calm the body down to regain the harmonious balance of body, mind and spirit. This is done through acupuncture, cupping, blood-letting, tonics, meditation, food advice and certain forms of Qi Gong.
Everything and every thought and emotion has an impact on the body. You see, we are using our life force like reserves in the bank.
I asked how a Western woman got into this ancient Oriental practice.
“I got into it about 15 years ago when I was ill. I had facial pain and no one could help find the cause. I went to Brighton and saw numerous professors and consultants. It affected the whole half of my head and the pain was shooting down my shoulder and side. It got so bad that I couldn’t even use a handbag on my shoulder and so had to wear a bum-bag. I thought that the pain was stemming from my teeth and so went to the dentist and had a nerve removed but the pain didn’t go away. I was getting so desperate that I went privately to get another tooth removed and then another. In the end, I had all of my teeth removed on the right hand side but the pain was still there. I also developed tinnitus. I now know this was because my energy was so weak. The pain was pulling me down, depleting my energy.
My sister recommended Ginseng, so I came here to buy Ginseng and spoke to Mr Lam about it. (I have personally heard of Master Lam previously as a very well respected person amongst the Cardiff Chinese community and a master of Tai Chi.) That started my journey on Traditional Chinese medicine. I felt the benefit straight away. As soon as the (acupuncture) needles went in, it numbed the pain. I then had to build my energy back up as I had five children and in my youth spent all my time training as a potential Olympic gymnast. It takes its toll on the body. Everything and every thought and emotion has an impact on the body. We deal with a lot of stress problem here.
You see, we are using our life force like reserves in the bank. If you keep on taking out and don’t put anything in, then your health suffers. I was very weak but took Chinese tonics to rebuild my strength. When I started to feel stronger, I thought I would like to do this to help people as I was helped. I had to help people with similar problems like myself who had fallen through the gaps of Western medicine. I knew then that that was my goal. I didn’t have second thoughts. Before, I used to wait for my husband to come home from work to hoover. I physically couldn’t do any chores.”
Lynn went on to do anatomy and physiology course in Barry College and also assisted Master Lam in his clinic, watching and learning then completed her exams in Oriental Medicine in Bristol as well as a correspondence herbal course that had taken two years to complete.
“Mr Lam took me on to teach me. In return, I would answer his phone and various things around the office. He would let me watch him handle the needles correctly for the acupuncture. I gained about twenty years experience in such a short time just by watching him. People don’t realise how in depth it is. I also had to learn Pathology-surface anatomy. You have to know where the tendons are if you are going to stick needles in to people!
It was hard going. I didn’t have second thoughts but it was so intense. We had Vets on our course, University lecturers. Some were breaking down and crying it was so intense. Luckily for me, it just came naturally.”
Lynn showed me the acupuncture needles that are pre-sterilised and sealed. They are one-use only. Used needles get put in the sharps bin tucked underneath the examination bed. She also showed me the vast array of old traditional Chinese herbs packed away in modern drawers and sealed for freshness. I liked the raw and exotic sight of it and so ask Lynn a bit more about them.
“A lot of British don’t like it. I have a Doctor friend in Holland and the public love all that over there. The British, they want the treatment in already prepared in concentrated powders or capsules. They (herbs) do taste disgusting when you boil them up but it’s not supposed to be like wine! But on saying that, what is wine like when you first taste it? It tastes disgusting.”
As Lynn dealt with a patient, I relaxed and made myself at home and noticed ‘cupping’ on the price list. Luckily, it wasn’t what I thought it was. The leaflet described it as ‘… an age old tradition with modern uses. Cupping relieves tightness and stiffness of the muscles, mucus or blood in your body, release of stagnant energy and can also reduce swelling.’
Lynn added, “Cupping is when we use the suction cups. It’s the interaction of the channels in the body. Where ever you’ve got stagnation, you’ve got pain. Acid forming in between the fibres of the muscles. Cupping releases it. It’s great for any sports injuries and would really benefit martial artists who often push the muscles too hard or over extend.”
The procedure involves putting a flame in the little glass bowls and placing them on certain points of the body. The flame eats up the oxygen and extinguishes causing the cup to suck up the skin or muscle with the purpose of drawing out the toxins. It is also believed to improve circulation and energy flow.
Lynn spoke a lot about the body’s energy but I needed to know where this comes from and how to get more.
“It comes from the dantien. Most Martial Artists have heard of this. (For those who don’t do Chinese Martial Arts and/or have never heard of the dantien, it is also known as the ‘lower daniten’ and believed situated just below the navel. It is considered the centre of the body’s balance and also where the cultivation of energy occurs)
Energy is in the food we take in. It’s the Yin and Yang from both of your parents. It’s your constitution you’re born with and numerous things can affect it. You can promote healing energy by practicing Qi Gong. Qi is ‘energy’ and ‘Gong’ is work. Qi Gong is practised by doing certain standing movements to clear the blockages in the channels and help to rebalance the whole physical body. Our style of Qi Gong that we have called ‘Chi-robics’ is designed to help do this and help the endocrine and the nervous system through simple and effective movements. You also need to consider food therapy and meditation is also very important. You have to meditate to calm the ‘chatterbox’ down.”
Chi-robics was new to me. I asked Lynn for a bit more info.
“It’s our own form developed by Mr Lam and myself. Our Qi Gong is unique. We considered what is the point of learning moves that you don’t need other than for show? What are the benefits of each move? We’ve simplified the Tai Chi movements to around 15-18 to get the full benefit out of it. So now we are more – “
“Streamlined?” I suggested.
“Yes exactly, we are more streamlined. We are practitioners of Chinese medicine and philosophers of life. So now we are direct to the point. That is the same with our Chinese medicine. That is why we are so unique here. You have got all these fancy formulas that are sometimes not needed. We’ve had a patient before who went to London and they gave him all these different things that just weren’t necessary. Outside just now is another example. Mr Lam told that lady to go and get Beetroot juice. This is because what happens is that the emotion of the liver is ‘anger’ and a lot of the people with the stress get too much heat in the liver, so beetroot juice would cool the liver down and the energies will go down. It’s something so simple.”
I went outside and introduced myself to the patient to see what type of customer would enter the clinic. The patient was a lovely lady called Owlyn Leavold (62yrs old from Dolgellau) who as luck would have it, hadn’t calmed her chatterbox down. She said,
“I was feeling very ill because I have a bad heart. I was trying to get doctors to notice that something was wrong and was just put on Beta blockers but they didn’t help. It had little effect on me. I became aware of Chinese medicine from the 1980’s when I used to do Tai Chi. I really enjoyed (Tai Chi) it and found my health improve. I did feel a bit self conscious though as it was full of Metropolitan police and so eventually gave it up. I am thinking of starting it up again. I came here to see if they could help and found it refreshing as they look at all of you not just part of you. Lynn is great and Dr Lam just makes sense to me. He explains things to you. The way I feel about it as that Western medicine keeps me alive while Chinese medicine helps me live a better life. My goal is to live longer and I think Chinese medicine will help me do that.”
“I practice daily (Chi-Robics). When you’re advanced, you don’t need to go back through the beginner’s movements, so I do about half an hour a day. I was up at half past five this morning to meditate. It is the best time as the house is quiet. I went through all my routines, then meditated. Just by doing that, you can feel in balance, in harmony and focused. You can deal with those situations in your life more. Every time you do it, you feel something new. It sounds crazy until you’ve experienced it. What I find is that some people can study for all those years and even teach but they can’t put it into practice. No disrespect to the leisure centres but you can pay three or four pounds for a lesson. You go there for an hour and come away and think what have I learned? Most just show you the moves. It doesn’t go in depth enough. People say, ‘Oh, I do Tai Chi’ but I ask, ‘What can you get out of that one move? Most people just don’t understand the complexity of it.
Martial artists and sports people are different because of the discipline – this is how they can get to another level. It’s that focus and dedication. People don’t take meditation and the need to study the spiritual philosophy seriously. If you’re one with nature and one with the universe everything is flowing and you can get so focussed. My son was entering a Karate competition when he was younger and Mr Lam helped him by teaching him some meditative techniques. He was focussed and had done well. A lot of people who are interested in martial arts, are interested in Chinese philosophy and how to control and to heal your body “
I take Lynn’s point on this. The majority of us have done things or at least seen others doing things to get into ‘the zone.’ I know from personal experience that in my competition days, I had to warm up in a very specific way and had a certain image in my head that I used to focus just before a fight. Others listen to music, perform kata or babble. I guess I would call this ‘emergency meditation’ where as Lynn’s daily dose ensures her focussed for daily life. Olympic athletes know the importance of mental focus and many use it as part of their training for that all important fraction of a second edge.
In Combative or competitive martial arts, correct breathing is always taught as an essential. In boxing I had a bad tendency to hold my breath at the wrong places and soon found myself, as the Americans would say – gassing out. In my recent trip to see Alwyn Heaths’ Kyokushin (click here to read the article), I witnessed a five minute meditation at the end of the class. When asked about this, he said, “It’s to calm the mind and body down after training and bring you back into balance.” This had a visible effect, especially on the children. The Shaolin monks ‘cultivate their Chi’ with breathing techniques, just before smashing an iron bar over their head.
If you don’t train properly, then you will just get very good at doing the wrong thing. “
I was just about to bombard Lynn with another load of questions when the charismatic Master Lam entered the office and I managed to have a quick chat with him. He said,
“There is a lot of misinformation in the market place, like wine is good for the heart for cholesterol. This isn’t true. If you ask a biochemist they will say that you would have to drink enough wine to destroy your liver before it will help the heart. It’s the main cause of gout nowadays. Also, (famous fizzy drink brand) is poisonous to the body. It’s no good for the body at all. You’ve got a lot of additives plus CO2. I have a lot of patients who have been drinking that and the intestines are being destroyed. If you understand that, you will understand that the CO2 is very bad for the body. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2. Why do we want to put it in our body? We are not plants. A potato plant uses CO2, sunlight for photosynthesis to make the potato, carbohydrates. We cannot do this and will just produce mucus that will block the whole system. It’s highly dangerous for the body. I want to write a letter to (famous fizzy drink) company and say, “Thank you, without you we would not have those patients.”
I had a feeling that he had spotted my famous fizzy drink sticking out of my bag and I was being indirectly told off, but I back healed the bottle out of sight just in case. He offered me a Chinese herb tea and asked if I had tried anything like this before.
I replied, “I’ve tried some of my wife’s green tea but didn’t like it very much.”
Lynn and master Lam shook their heads at the same time. They weren’t impressed with green tea. Master Lam explained,
“Green tea is no good for you. Especially for women, it weakens the body.”
I took a sip of some of the herb tea that he offered. It was rich and very pleasant and probably the only tea that I have enjoyed without milk and two sugars…….and a lot of biscuits.
He went on to say,
“We’ve got our own style of Qi Gong. We are doing the medical Qi Gong. It is a very powerful healing system.” Can I show you something?”
Dr Lam demonstrated a punch and the power in the air around it is palpable.
“Very soft and then you become very hard. If you want to get power, you have to be soft. We have the physical power and the healing energy. It’s not the movement; it’s how to do the movements properly. If you don’t train properly, then you will get very good at doing the wrong thing. “
I was then actively encouraged to punch Master Lam in the calf and thigh. Not wanting to turn down a free punch on a master, I gave it a go and hit granite. He said,
“In martial arts, do they have creative thinking? If you don’t copy your master exactly, then you are wrong. Just like in religions, this is why Bruce Lee said, ‘It’s called a traditional mess.’ That’s why we here treat everyone on their individual needs. We have to have creative thinking in our medical Qi Gong.”
I was then invited to sit on the sofa and close my eyes. I could sense slow movement around my head that I presumed and hoped was just a hand. After only a few seconds a wave of relaxation came over me. It was a strange feeling. I am very much from the ‘external art’ school. This was the first time that I had experienced the internal arts. I still cannot explain it but I felt very loose, calm and…yup, I guess ‘centred’ as they say.
Lynn asked me,
“Have you ever had a problem with your nose? I’m picking up problems from that area.”
I confirmed that I have always had a problem with my nose. It has been popped a few times and I had to have surgery to straighten it again and also to remove Polyps. Lynn continued,
“We taught teachers in a school that had quite a high number of naughty children. The headmistress was going to cancel us from any further lessons because one teacher slept for a whole week. We brought her back into such a balance because she was so stressed with these children. She then got better and better and more in control of them.
We taught in Rotterdam where one woman was experimenting. We went around to local police stations teaching and they put a monitor on the student’s fingers to measure their heart rate. When someone comes in being aggressive, you don’t know how much that affects the body and it really is damaging that person’s health. So, what we were doing then was to teach how to calm the body and be in a harmonious balance. If martial artists come in, we can help them be the best that they can be. We really have the knowledge to help them.”
The dynamics between Master Lam and Lynn worked well. They are the embodiment of Yin and Yang, the hard and the soft, the spiritual and the terrestrial. I am not a medical person and cannot quantify or qualify the pros and the cons of TCM. However, I did discover there is something in it. It is like a general MOT for your overall health rather just going to the garage when the tyre is blown or the exhaust has fallen off. Since my meeting with Lynn, I have made time to just close my eyes for a few minutes a day and breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. Just those couple of minutes a day has helped a little with stress and with focussing. I have also drastically cut down on that famous fizzy drink and feel much better for it and slightly less sluggish. I did relapse once and tried a bottle, but it tasted excessively sweet and I couldn’t believe that I used to drink it all the time.
Lynn made a point of explaining that if you are open minded, you can get the benefits and I believe that’s the key. If TCM makes you feel better and it is not interfering with GP advice then why not try it. What can you lose?
Master Lam and Lynn are currently running seminars on self help and how to become a healer on Saturdays or Sundays once a month. If you would like more information on this or on TCM, then please see Lynn’s contact information by visiting her website at; http://www.clinicoftcm.com/
Also, check out our movie review ‘Man of Tai Chi’ by clicking here.