Cooling the Overheated Engine

September 2008

Robert Eady (not his real name), a sales executive in Vancouver at the peak of his career, started to experience insomnia, anxiety, fatigue and body tremors. He decided that he had to do something immediately but didn’t know what and didn’t want to take drugs. After coming to see Dr. Zhu he said, “I did not know what to expect as I was not familiar with acupuncture and Chinese medicine in general. Three months later I think the holistic approach that Dr. Zhu proposed was exactly what was suitable for my problem that, now I see it clearly, was made by a physical and a psychological components. The treatment started being effective almost immediately (2-3 sessions of acupuncture) and the improvement has been continuous ever since. The insomnia disappeared, my energy level has increased and tremor episodes are really rare. Probably the most interesting aspect of this experience is the fact that the therapy is conceived as a practice of self-healing and in this way it left me an empowering feeling and a knowledge that will be very useful also in the future.”

During our first consultation session, I found that Robert’s pulse was very rapid (83 beats per minute), and had a pounding and tense quality. His face was red, his eyes bloodshot, and his tongue was also very red. He had tremor in his hands as he sat, was anxious during the entire session, and laughed frequently (which is a sign of nervousness). From all the signs and symptoms, I saw a pattern emerging which in Chinese Medicine diagnosis is called “pathological fire in the Liver and Heart system”.

So what does this mean? Imagine a car that’s filled with fuel and running at full speed. As the engine works hard to make the car go fast, heat is generated. At the beginning, it is ok; the radiating system can absorb all the heat. But what if the car keeps running and does not stop? Two things will happen: first as there is more and more heat, more and more coolant is consumed, if we don’t add more, the engine will burn out. Second, if the car keeps running, eventually the fuel will run out, and the car will stop. It’s very similar to what is happening in our bodies. In Chinese medicine we believe that the principle of Yin and Yang predicates on all phenomenon in the world. Yin energy represents qualities such as cold, slow, relaxation, nighttime, etc., and Yang energy represents opposite qualities such as hot, fast, active, daytime etc. In nature, there is the cyclical wane and wax of Yin and Yang energy as there is daytime following night time, a season of fast growth followed by a season of hibernation. In the case of a car, you need to have both the combustion system that is hot and active, and the fluid system that is cool and moist — the two parts work harmoniously.

Our body works the same way. When the body is very active for a while, it needs to wind down and become relatively inactive for the system to recuperate and refuel. This is the time we relax or sleep. As people are under stress, the Yang energy becomes the predominant one to mobilize the body’s resources to work. This process consumes energy, produces heat and same time consumes fluids. If the body has been under stress for a long time, there will be a lot of heat. When the fluid system becomes overwhelmed and not able to absorb all the heat promptly the body then becomes overheating and “on fire”. And symptoms start to show up. Now Robert had been running at high speed for quite a while, and his systems were so geared up and totally tipped to the active end and got stuck there. We say that the balance between the Yin and Yang energy is broken. When the balance is off, there are always signs and symptoms showing up. In Robert’s case, red face, tongue, red eyes, show the heat signs. During the evening time the Yin energy should become dominant and the whole system slows down, which enables us to go to sleep. In Robert’s system, too much fire prevented the system from calming down and sleeping. There is constant stir internally from the fire; this manifested externally as restlessness, anxiety and tremors (muscles moving without control). The excessive fire also consumed energy, just like a fast running engine consumes more fuel, which led to fatigue. In Chinese Medicine, both the Heart system and the Liver system are closely related with the function of sleep. When there’s too much fire, these two organ systems became out of balance and insomnia occurred.

Knowing the underlying cause of Robert’s symptoms, which is the Yin/Yang imbalance, we set up a treatment plan to help his body to regain its balance. Besides twice weekly session of acupuncture treatments, I also suggested some lifestyle modification to complement the treatments. I suggested him quit coffee and replace his daily jogging with gentler exercise such as walking or Yoga. Coffee is a stimulant; it should not be taken at all in any case of insomnia. Jogging is good for some people, but in Robert’s case, his system was “running too fast” already. Slower-paced exercises like walking, yoga, or tai chi would be more suitable for him. I prescribed deep breathing exercise for 15 minutes before bedtime. Robert followed our program religiously, and improved very quickly.

Four months later, each time when I see Robert I am amazed that how much he has changed. The tremor is totally gone. He’s relaxed, has a warm sense of humor, and is not anxious any more. He was offered a director’s position in the company but chose to pursue a MBA degree overseas. He is still as ambitious as he was before. With his regained health and the knowledge and tools he learned during our work together, he feels more confident about achieving his goals. As he said, he also feels empowered and knows that his health is in his own hands.

A well maintained car can run smoothly for a long time. And a body maintained with the wisdom of balance is able to serve you better as a vehicle to achieve your potential.

Do you feel stressed? Do you have problem sleeping? What do you think after reading Robert’s story? Please email us This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and let us know.