Saturday, December 15, 2018

Gao Fang - Take a tonic in winter, kill a tiger in spring…

As I've been spending more time in Hangzhou for my phd program, I've come across some interesting formulas and Chinese medicine practices. This time last year I spent a few months in a Hangzhou clinic where I learned about a method of prescribing formulas called gāo fāng (膏方). During the transition from autumn to winter, a traditional Chinese tonic formula is written with large quantities of herbs, and made into a sort of paste. This paste is taken home, mixed with hot water, and consumed over a period of at least 15 days, but usually 30-45 days. The purpose of gāo fāng is to strengthen the qì (), and nourish the body for the coming winter so that one emerges in spring free from illness, and ready for the new year. 

In the cold of winter, our appetite increases as the body is driven to consume higher levels of calories to stay warm. Chinese medicine doctors believe this is the perfect time to consume tonic herbs, and rest as much as possible. No “detoxing” or fasting in the winter!!!!

The practice is at least as old as the Huang Di Nei Jing (about the 1st century BCE), but my mentors in China suggest that in those early times the formulas were very simple, and probably used topically. Also, these formulas were only used by royalty and the aristocracy due to the high cost. As social welfare improved in the Ming and Qing dynasties (starting about 700 years ago), the general population became more concerned with health and longevity, and the practice became more widespread. Zhejiang, where I study every year, and Jiangsu province, were the most wealthy regions at that time, and the formulas and clinics that wrote them flourished.

There is a famous story of Li Hongzhang whose family member had a severe cough each winter. It is believed that a gāo fāng containing renshen (ginseng) and ge jie (gecko) relieved this cough, and the herbalist who wrote the formula, Cai Tong De Tang, was immortalized on a plaque in his pharmacy. 

Some pharmacies have ready-made pastes, but it is best to have an evaluation by a trained herbalist. If there are underlying issues, such as poor digestion, an intensive 2 week regulation formula is written so the body is able to absorb the potent tonic herbs. In addition to poor digestion, the gāo fāng is contraindicated in those with tumors or masses, as it is believed this strong tonic formula may increase those tumors. 

The formula is completely pattern based, geared towards one’s underlying constitution, and history of medical issues; however, the general idea is to nourish yin and tonify yang. A typical gāo fāng may contain as many as 40 herbs, cost as much as $400 - $1500, and will contain e jiao (donkey hide gelatin), lu jiao jiao (deer antler gelatin), gui ban jiao (turtle shell gelatin), ren shen (renshen), and other tonic herbs. In addition to these tonics, the formula usually contains honey and sugar for flavor, and sesame or walnut may be added for additional flavor. About 1-2 tablespoons is consumed each day, morning and evening, with hot water or in huang jiu (yellow rice wine). It is also recommended that the tea or soup be consumed from a porcelain bowl. Throughout history metal pots and serving ware were often made of reactive metals. I believe that is why formulas were only cooked in clay pots, and consumed from bowls made of porcelain. Today we have more options…

This is a typical gāo fāng formula we wrote for a female patient of 35 years old, with 2 children in generally good health:

Tai zi shen 150g, Zhi huang qi 120g, Shu di huang 150g.
Yang chu sha 15g, Gou qi zi 150g, Xin xian tie pi 150g,
Zhi he shou wu 120g, Sang shen 120g, Mai dong 60g,
Wu wei zi 15g, Chao bai shao 120g, Zhi gan cao 30g,
Zhi xiang fu 60g, Fa Ban xia 60g, Fu ling 60g,
Fo shou gan 60g, Lian zi 120g, Pu gong ying 120g,
Huai Xiao Mai 120g, Sang ji sheng 120g, Mu gua 60g,
Lian xu 50g, Qian shi 120g, Hei zhi ma 125g,
He tao ren 125g, Da zao 120g, E jiao 250g,
Yi tang 250g, Huang jiu 250g, Wen shan yao 30g  

Even if you can’t get a custom gāo fāng written for you, I always tell my patients to loosen up in the winter, reduce your stress, sleep more, and gain a few pounds. It’s time for family, good food, and inner reflection.  

Have a happy holiday season!!!!

References: › Health › TCM

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tai Chi Schedule for Fall 2018...

If you're in the Los Angeles area, lot’s of good opportunities to practice tai chi this fall:
1 - I will be offering an 8 week seminar learning the Chen 18 tai chi form, starting September 23rd at Dharma Health Institute in Playa Del Rey. Perfect for beginners, and anyone who wants to go deeply into a Chen form. $145 for 8 weeks. 

Dharma Health Institute
143 Culver Blvd,
Playa Del Rey, Ca 90293
Phone: 310-822-7755

My teacher in China, Gao Xiao Bao

2 - Our regular class in Brentwood (Wednesday night and Saturday morning) will begin learning the Combined 42 Tai Chi form on Saturday, September 29th. Each Saturday we'll learn new pieces of the form, and typically review on Wednesday night. $20/class

Emails for class location and time...

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Chen Tai Chi Seminar (8 Weeks)

I'm leading a Chen tai chi seminar this fall at Dharma Health Institute in Playa Del Rey. For 8 weeks, we'll learn the Chen 18 form, a really amazing form I learned in China.

The Chen family-style is the oldest and parent form of the five traditional family styles of tai chi. In this 8 week seminar we will learn the Chen 18 form, created by Chen Zheng Lei. It's a perfect form to learn the essential movements of Chen tai chi. 

In addition to the choreography, emphasis will be placed on silk reeling (chán sī jì), and generating power (fa jin) through proper form and alignment. We will also cover the intention behind the postures and movements. 

The Chen 18 form is a perfect form to begin learning tai chi, but will also improve other forms of tai chi that you may know.

$145 for 8 Weeks (credit card, cash, venmo, paypal accepted)

Please email for more details

Dharma Health Institute

143 Culver Blvd,
Playa Del Rey, Ca 90293
Phone: 310-822-7755

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

New Office, New hours!!!

I am extremely happy to announce the opening of our new Chinese medicine practice in Santa Monica!!! I've been eyeing this building for 10 years, and the timing and generosity of a great friend has made it possible. I'll officially start seeing patients next week, so please spread the word, visit our website, and like our Authentic Healing Traditions FB page!!! If you've seen us in the past, and you're so moved, please head over to Yelp to leave us a review as that seems to be a huge motivator for new patients.

Tuesday - Thursday 8:00am - 2:00pm
Friday 8:00am - 5:00pm
Saturday 11:00am - 5:00pm

1460 7th St, Suite #301
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(213) 792-2825

Herbal and Lifestyle Phone Consults Available...

Thank you to all of my friends and family for supporting this new career path. It hasn't been easy, but I am forever in your debt. Especially my tai chi crew!!!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Nine Palace Acupuncture #2

I've had enough "interesting" experiences meditating, and especially spending time in the mountains of China and Japan, to know that science cannot explain everything, yet. But I approach Chinese medicine and acupuncture from a very scientific viewpoint. I like knowing how it all works, and examining the language we use to describe it. I don't rule out the spiritual components at all, but I'm cautious about the language I use. That being said, I witnessed something very special on my last trip to China with Dr. Feng Ninghan. 

A 7 year old girl was brought into the clinic completely paralyzed as a result of encephalitis. She died at the hospital the week before, and the ER docs brought her back to life. However, she is completely paralyzed, and in constant pain. They expect that she will never recover. Her amazing parents massage her body, carry her everywhere, feed her, and of course try to figure out what her needs are. She cries out most of the time. If she stays in one position too long her BP drops, if she gets overly simulated her BP spikes, her extremities become cyanotic randomly. 

She came into clinic one morning and she cried from the moment they came in the door, not a moment to breath for her family. My mentor walked over, palpated her lower legs, chose one point (spleen 6), and chanted "om" while he put the needle in and stimulated it. She immediately stopped crying, and her eyes completely shifted, she looked at us and there was understanding, she was with us again. Everyone in the room was kind of shocked. His assistants had never seen him do this. He put in a few more needles, and attended to other patients. Anytime she started to cry, he would walk over and stimulate the needles with the same result everytime, calm. We all know she may never recover, but if she, and her family can find a few moments of peace that would be enough. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine combined with chanting and Buddhist thought does not happen often in China...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Nine Palace Acupuncture...

Dr. Feng Ninghan practices a system of acupuncture called Nine Palace Acupuncture (宫针). The system is steeped in the theories of the He Tu Luo Shuo diagrams and the Yijing, and elucidated by both the Huangdi Neijing and Zhen Jiu Da Cheng. The creation myth of the He Tu, or Yellow River map, as mentioned in the Xici commentary of the Yijing, states that Fu Xi, one of the twin offspring of Hua Xu, created the diagram and the Yijing based on markings appearing on a Dragon Horse that emerged from the Yellow River around 2600 BC (Theobold, 2012). The Luo Shu diagram was created by King Yu during the Xia dynasty (2070 – 1600 BC). Yu is credited with controlling the massive floods that had plagued China by creating channels in the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, and upon taking the throne also divided China into 9 provinces (Bjaaland-Welch, P. 2008). While King Yu stood on the banks of the Luo River, a tortoise emerged and on his under-belly were symbols representing the numbers and arrangement seen in the Luo Shu diagram (Adler, 2017).

Figure 1 – He Tu Luo Shu Diagrams

The He Tu diagram represents the pre-natal or pre-heaven arrangement of the bagua, and the Luo Shu represents the arrangement of the post-natal bagua. Nine Palace acupuncture primarily utilizes the post-heaven bagua, and it is through the application of these hexagrams that we can apply the theories of yin yang, san cai (jing, qi, shen), san jiao differentiation, 4 stages (taiyang, taiyin, shaoyang, shaoyin), wu xing (5 elements or transformations), and 6 stages (taiyang, taiyin, shaoyang, shaoyin, yangming, jueyin). These theories also support 8 Principle differentiation (yin, yang, excess, deficiency, hot, cold, internal, external).
Figure 2 – Pre-Heaven and Post Heaven Bagua

From the post-natal bagua we can draw what mathematicians have called the Magic Square.

Figure 3 – Magic Square

            By placing this concept of the square on different parts of the body, such as the abdomen, we can derive acupuncture treatments that conform to the philosophical principles outlined above (Urs, 2014). Dr. Feng emphasizes that all acupuncture treatments must follow a treatment principle, and that each patient will present differently even with similar symptoms or even western diagnosis. There are no standard needle prescriptions as is often the case in TCM.

            Most importantly, I have found that I can utilize Nine Palace acupuncture in my own clinic as an adjunct to more conventional TCM treatments, and that in no way does Nine Palace acupuncture contradict such conventional treatments.

-Adler, J.A. (2014). "The Great Virtue of Heaven and Earth 天地之大德: "Deep Ecology in the Yijing 易經.” Religious Diversity and Ecological Sustainability in China, [editor Miller, J.]. London: Routledge.
-Adler, J.A. (2017). Zhu Xi's Commentary on the Xicizhuan 繫辭傳 (Treatise on the Appended Remarks), Appendix of the Yijing 易經 (Scripture of Change). Unpublished manuscript, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, USA.
-Bjaaland Welch, P. (2008). Chinese art: a guide to motifs and visual imagery (p. 262). North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing.
-Theobold, U. (2012). Hetu luoshu 河圖洛書, the River Chart and the Inscription of the Luo., available E-mail:
-Urs, S., (2014). Dr. Feng’s clinical application of the Nine Palaces Acupuncture九宫针法., available E-mail:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Nanjing hotel escapades

Last night I had a travel experience that was less than spectacular. A peaceful train ride, and dinner with my Chinese taiji family slowly devolved into a potential "Hostel" remake. After a perfect dinner, I assured my Chinese friends that I knew Nanjing well enough, and could find the hotel by myself. I showed them the address that Expedia provided, all agreed it was an easy walk, and we went in opposite directions. I have walked this street dozens of times, but as I got to the intersection where Expedia thought the hotel would be, I realized that something was off in the street numbers. I asked a few people, including a concierge at another hotel, and they all pointed me in different directions. 

Thankfully I found a Starbucks, and though it was closed, I stood close enough to borrow their wifi. Of course, the Expedia messenger and map crashed because they are powered by Google. No Google in China... Even with the VPN I couldn’t get more info. I started off in what I thought would be the right direction judging by the street numbers. I couldn’t really hail a taxi because the numbers kept jumping, and for what it’s worth, I only had the address in English, and taxi drivers in China never speak English. I finally found the right block after about an hour’s walk (literally across town), and there were 2 hotels at the same address, neither of which accepted foreigners, or knew what Expedia was. No one at either hotel knew of the other, or the place I was looking for. 

I went into a lobby at the next building which finally matched the picture from the website, but it was not a hotel, at all. It was some strange gym, office building, karaoke bar, and a few other “interesting” businesses. The security guards, and a very nice Australian guy who was fluent in Mandarin, had no idea what hotel I was looking for. So I wandered a bit asking everyone I could find. 

Tired, really sweaty and frustrated, I walked back to the Sofitel I had passed earlier (and a place I had stayed many times in the past). I hobbled into the lobby like a battered James Bond escaping from North Korea, handed my passport over, and said I would like a room please. She started typing and said “We only have a suite tonight.“ Noooo, but I remained calm and asked the price, I must’ve turned pale, but she quickly covered for me and said, “Mr. Hoffman it looks like you’ve stayed with us several times in the past, please wait.” Some words were exchanged with the manager, and I got the suite for the regular room price for 2 nights!!!!! 

Unlike a James Bond movie, a beautiful foreign spy did not show up at my door later that night, but I did bask in the glory of a western bed, and bathroom, so much so that I almost pulled a Charlotte in the shower (that’s a Sex in the City reference…). Oddly at midnight I got a text message from the non-existent hotel asking if I would check in tonight. Apparently, even though I had no contact info, I was supposed to text message them from the lobby of the strange building. They would then take me up to their apartment where I would pay in cash, and then they would lead me to another floor where I would stay. Uh, thanks but no thanks. #expedia.comfail

BTW, how exactly does James Bond travel the world with zero luggage?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hangzhou Chinese Banquet...

You know how grappa is the dregs of wine pretending to be brandy. Bai jiu is the dregs of grappa pretending not to be lighter fluid. Tonight after clinic our last patient asked if he could take the whole clinic crew out for a Chinese banquet. This is a highly ritualized affair that makes the royal wedding look like a picnic, and something I haven't had to do in a longtime... Where you sit, when, how and what you drink, even how you toast and tap your glass is all choreographed. Luckily formalities in China have loosened, and being a foreigner allows you some leeway. But how you handle yourself can literally determine your future amongst your peers. Don’t drink, lose face, drink too much, you’re an idiot. Luckily I’ve seen this movie, I’m Irish, and I’ve been dutifully trainer by a Scottish friend, so I escaped with only a few glasses of the devils liquor, and handled myself accordingly. 

Unfortunately you’re always wondering if you did everything correctly...
I should also mention we ate at a Chinese seafood restaurant. I’m pretty sure that this is where James Cameron and H.R. Giger got the idea for Alien. But I channeled my inner Anthony Bourdain and tried everything, even the underwater millipede they call mantis shrimp. The line from Apocalypse Now came to mind “if you eat this no one will ever question your bravery again.” But we did have some great food, including crawfish which are now in season here...