David Brochstein, L.Ac., O.M.D., a regular ben’s TEN contributor, is a Texas native whose journey around the world—quite literally—has come full circle, as he now practices Oriental Medicine in the Dallas area. David’s approach to treatment is a perfect synergy of East and West, Ancient and Modern. I speak from experience in saying that his “bedside manner” is one of compassion and patience reinforced with precision and vast knowledge. In one 60-minute session with Dr. David (as he treated a family member) I felt as though I’d completed a course in Eastern medicine myself! So when the topic of body purification came up as a ben’s TEN theme, I knew there was no better resource than Dr. David. I hope you enjoy the interview.
b10: Dr. David, we are so happy to have the chance to chat with you today on a topic of high interest to ben’s TEN readers–purification and its benefits. In particular, we are hoping you could use your area of expertise–Oriental medicine–to discuss the hows and whys of the purification of the body. Let’s cut to the chase…from the point of view of Oriental medicine, what about the body needs to be purified?
Dr. David: Ben, thanks very much for inviting me to be a part of this discussion!
Oriental medicine’s most fundamental concept is that of “balance”. This refers to the balance of all things… ALL things whether seen or unseen. The concept of balance in this context is profound, so don’t be misled to think that the balance referred to here is simply a balanced diet or a balanced exercise regimen, although that will certainly be a part. The balance of substances in the body, the power and potential to manage substances, the ability to adapt to stress, the ability to relax as well as perform… all functions and substances are manifested from one’s balance. If the foundation’s balance is off then the products of physiology will be imbalanced, the function and nutrition will be imbalanced, and the cycle of imbalance continues.
This said, my answer to the question “what about the body needs to be purified?” is: anything that upsets the balance of one’s whole health. From a holistic standpoint this could include anything from excessive consumption to avoidant mental patterns to environmental toxin accumulation. The causes that lead to imbalance are literally endless, as are their effects.
An example of this occurs occasionally with some patients who see me for wellness enhancement. This kind of program is focused on balancing the quantity and quality of both function and substances of the body, and it also includes lifestyle modifications that support improved balance and stability. In one recent case I had identified some toxicity or pathogen in the patient during an earlier office visit, but it was not a major concern or symptom-causing problem at the time, and no treatment was provided to “detox” the issue. But after achieving more balance through the gentle wellness program, this patient spontaneously detoxified that toxicity/pathogen on her own. This occurred without any specific treatment to “detox” the problem… the body was finally able to clarify itself once the balance was improved. When the wellness picture is not sufficiently balanced like in this case, specific treatments are required to detoxify systems and pathogens. But those treatments are never as easy and effective as the natural spontaneous version.
b10: OK, so what are some signs/symptoms we might experience as individuals that indicate we need some body purification?
Dr. David: The first sign is one’s suffering quality of life. I do not believe that everyone needs purification unless they have a motivation to live a different life experience from their current state. Everyone has room to grow and improve on any given level, but that does not necessarily mean it is their time to do that. Self-willed commitments are the beginning of any change.
Every person has a unique sense of values and sense of self. Some who visit me in my office are very physically focused. They feel physical symptoms first, and they often are somewhat disconnected from the more subtle mental workings. Some, however, will be mentally focused and quite sensitive to the subtle and faster moving energetics in the mental realm while remaining less connected and less sensitive to physical experience. For each of these people the signs and symptoms may be different.
In general there are a few primary categories of “impurity” that I see in my office regularly, and I will introduce two of them here. The first is turbidity. This is a big concept and can grow to be a very substantial discussion, so I’ll keep it brief. Turbidity congests the body on every level. It congests fluid passageways of all kinds, and it obstructs the flow of “qi” which I usually refer to as function. It can cause numbness, degradation of tissues, heaviness of the body, low energy, weak digestion and absorption, gas, bloating, belching, a weakened immune function, slow healing and recovery, sensitivity to allergens, and being “foggy-headed”, for a few examples of many. Turbidity can actually grow to stagnate the function and substances of a system to the end of major disease.
Another impurity I commonly see clinically is that of “heat” or “fire”. These are actually two different concepts in Oriental medicine each with unique signs and symptoms. Yet both of these are considered pathogenic and both can damage body fluids and tissues while disturbing general function. These pathogens both can lead one directly into disease. The body fluids these two can damage are the same body fluids that are the medium for movement and tissue detoxification, so when the fluid system is compromised toxicity will eventually result. Left unchecked, that toxicity can overwhelm one’s immune system and lead to disease.
But neither of these examples is suitable for self-diagnosis nor self-treatment. Oriental medicine is generally not a layman’s tool without at least some one-on-one guidance.
b10: What might be some methods you prescribe when a patient approaches you with these issues?
Dr. David: To start, I have a few rules when treating any patient, and the second of these is: do not feed the problem. People whose constitutions are overwhelmed with turbidity, or people whose bodies and minds are under the effects of pathogenic fire, or any toxin or pathogen, tend to feed or protect this imbalance. It is not usually conscious behavior, but the pattern is common nonetheless. At the top of my list for a patient’s benefit is to effectively adjust the lifestyle so this condition is no longer supported ongoing. As a practitioner I also follow the advice to not feed the problem. When prescribing herbal formulas, for example, I must be very clear regarding what herbs in the program can influence the body in ways that can lead to the problem regenerating itself.
Taking pathogenic fire as an example. I often combine three treatment strategies to mitigate the effects and undermine the cause: 1) improve the healthy fluid balance at the organ level (protect water from further damage by fire), 2) clear or reduce the fire itself using cold or cool-natured, bitter, descending, or dispersing herbs depending on the situation, and 3) open the channels to vent or redirect fire and excess heat using acupuncture. Lifestyle modifications may include, among others, avoiding certain food groups that exacerbate the problem.
b10: On the other side of the coin, what are some signs/benefits we might experience that indicate the purification process is working?
Dr. David: This depends on the initial symptoms and the patient’s self-awareness and focus. If a patient comes in complaining of hot itching rashes, for example, and if I diagnose and treat it as excessive fire accumulated in the urinary bladder and lung channels, then the signs of a working treatment will be a reduction of the primary symptoms – the sensation of heat, the itching, and the rash itself. That’s an easy one. But some people will present a nebulous set of symptoms that are unclear even to them. They may initially say something like, “I just don’t feel right, something is definitely off”. Yet when I question them about symptoms, they may have a long list, but all of them are low-level, and no single symptom consistently gets their attention. In that case I will note all the symptoms and recheck them at each visit watching for a trend of change or resolution. Beyond this, I watch the diagnostic signs closely to see that we are generating momentum and moving toward resolution. Once momentum is gained then changes usually occur fairly predictably.
When one experiences the repose from a pathogenic state of any kind, it can be like a fog is lifted, or a searing fire inside is extinguished, or they are well-rested for the first time in months or years. Many report increased sensitivity to stimuli (taste & smell enhanced), that they feel light on their feet and no longer as sluggish, their thinking is less circular and more open and creative, sense of well-being improves, cravings are reduced or eliminated, and grasping, aversion, or worry are noticeably lessened. However, the changes on a program such as this are sometimes very gradual, so there may not be the experience of a paradigm shift, especially when dealing with a slow moving toxin such as turbidity. Fire, however, often moves fast and can respond quickly to acupuncture depending on the channels involved. In that case, even some difficult chronic cases change dramatically within 24 hours.
b10: This might be the million-dollar question, but how entangled are the mind and body in your opinion? In other words, how much effect do our mind and thoughts have on the state of our body and its level of purification?
Dr. David: When generalizing, I always have to remind myself that generalizations do not apply to individuals! ::laughs:: Well, my answer to this question will reveal more of my personal philosophy. I believe, as I have come to understand and have been taught by my most accomplished teachers, that any lack of clarity or purity of any sentient life is synonymous with the unbalancing effects of karma. Karma is not a nebulous term here, but, in the context of my clinical evaluation, refers to the individual’s unique factors that push or draw a system out of centeredness (for you Mind Training fans: push = aversion, draw = grasping). As all mind-oriented traditions tell you, all is mind, and all change begins with intent which may be manifested in the physical realm once intent is set into motion. Therefore, my answer to the question “how much effect do our mind and thoughts have on the state of our body and its level of purification?” is: 100%!
b10: In your travels and studies I’m sure you’ve come across some fascinating teachers and figures. Can you give an example of someone whose presence struck you as a result of his/her level of purification and other practices?
Dr. David: Absolutely! Back in 2004 I was in retreat with Lama Ole Nydahl who had a recent serious injury from a high fall. He was in recovery but was still in pain and having difficulty moving around. After the first meeting I offered to contribute some help if he was interested, and his wife Hannah accepted on his behalf. That evening I went to their room to treat him. One of the major diagnostic tools in Oriental medicine is radial pulse examination, which is a difficult skill to learn and utilize. At that time I had been reading pulses for about 8 years, but I had never spent time examining the pulse of an accomplished yogi, which Lama Ole is. This was my chance to finally see a “normal” pulse, or an independently fulfilled pulse manifested free of the confusing or misleading effects of karma. In short, I had my opportunity, and that lesson literally reorganized my entire understanding of the medicine and its tools over the next few months as I contemplated that experience. That was actually very important for me, and it was so clear that whatever I was contributing to him was redirected to me. It was one of those profound experiences that happens in a closed retreat… difficult to put into words, but it changed my life on many levels. I attribute that to the Lama’s skill and ability borne out of purity. I guess we’re seemingly talking about two kinds of purity here, the physical side and the karma side. But it’s not really like that, is it? The physical part – where I implement most of my clinical work even if affecting the mental end – is merely a part of the totality of the karma continuum. Better watch out, I think we’re going philosophical now…
b10: Let’s boil it down. What are three simple things you can recommend we do to reduce the impurity level of our body?
Dr. David: Wow, so many ways to answer. I usually attempt to take a question like this on a case-by-case basis, because every individual values different things and responds to different tips. But, if we are clear that these are generalizations, here we go:
- I suppose the first thing on the list really must be monitoring all food/drink/supplement intake for artificial, synthetic, hydrogenated, and non-food ingredients. When the body attempts to digest and assimilate many of these substances there will often be a compromise in the digestive process, because the body is unable to break down the substance and unable to assimilate what is being offered. In that case the body will store the energy potential of that substance, since it cannot resolve it, and that energy potential is stored as a toxin or impurity. The effects resulting from this general toxicity are wide-ranging, and they inevitably cause a shift in the balance of health potential for the worse. Read all your labels, and if you see an ingredient that doesn’t look like food to you, then pass it up. I also avoid “healthy” things from toxic sources. Tap water has chlorine and trace amounts of synthetic substances, so I won’t drink or cook with it. Wild grown dandelions, for another interesting example, may seem to make a great salad green or home-made tincture. But wild dandelions as well as many wild greens are known to scavenge for heavy metals, and they can pull high concentrations right out of the air and ground. So, if you use wild sources for your food, make sure your sources are not in proximity to high traffic or drainage areas that may see polluted air or water.
- Secondly, I recommend that one listen to one’s body cues (body sensation) rather than relying on ideas and accepted behaviors (intelligence, thinking). An example of this relates to the turbidity we discussed earlier. Occasionally I’ll see a patient who comes into my office complaining of feeling tired, depressed, alternating between feeling hot & cold, and a list of digestive issues including gas, bloating, and nausea with an inconsistent appetite. Between almost every question and answer in the clinic session I see him or her reach for a water bottle out of habit. When I ask how much fluid they drink, I often get an excited answer such as, “Oh! I drink at least ¾ gallon of water daily… at least! ” Well, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. As a system can experience dehydration from lack of fluid intake, it can also experience turbidity from excessive fluid intake. But the associated symptoms are harder to identify than those related to dehydration. I generally recommend that this kind of person drink when their body cues them to drink, but never out of habit or some idea that more is better, or that every person needs “x” number of glasses daily. This is often revealed when I ask, “When is the last time you remember being thirsty?” The answer should be something like, “The last time I drank water…” but not “I don’t really get thirsty, because I drink so much water.”
- For the third of these three tips, I’ll go out on a limb. Assuming many of your readers are familiar with Eastern philosophy and the likes of Dharma or mind training, the last tip is one grounded in these philosophies and also based firmly in the Oriental medicine view with which I work. Taking the foundations that “all is mind”, “all actions begin with intent”, and “time & space – mind – have neither beginning nor end” I would suggest the following for those comfortable with mind training work. First, avoid strong patterns of aversion or grasping. Both aversion and grasping divide the body’s total energy into segments of self and other which have an effect on the health of the subtle energy system and places limits on the progress one can expect regarding self-development including meditative disciplines. Second, soften patterns of fixed mental perception and understanding. Do not always believe what you see, or that what you see is what is actually before you. Fixed mental understanding is an opposite of dynamic energy movement which the body relies on each and every moment to keep clean and clear. As everything changes, there is nothing fixed and static, but we still create belief systems based on the fixed and static. Just avoid investing your heart in the belief that what you perceive will exist again… this allows for much more energy movement especially when things do change. And finally, feel deeply. When allowing your body to operate naturally, it will “digest” and resolve everything from food to thoughts to impressions. Yet it can only do this completely when the heart’s channels are open and mobile. An effect of this is deep moving sensation and emotional experience. Although many will turn away from deep experience such as this because it makes them uncomfortable in some way, this is a prerequisite for the completion of the digestion and resolution mentioned before. These are not the kind of tips I regularly offer to patients, but because I know a little of your audience I think it may be right.
b10: This has been extremely insightful. Thank you so much for your time and generosity! Where can readers reach you with questions on more specific issues or even to schedule a consultation?
Dr. David: Ben, I enjoy sharing Oriental medicine immensely, and I particularly enjoy connecting with those who come from a self-responsible, open-minded, and natural place. I’m fortunate to have found my own place in professional life, and even more fortunate to have found a community with similar values and interests. I want to thank you and your readers for including me today. I’m very happy about it.
My website, which was recently destroyed during some hack attacks directed at my server, is finally back online. I can be found at dbacu.com, and my blog, which is somewhat out of date due to the hack, is at blog.dbacu.com. If anyone is unsure if Oriental medicine is a suitable tool for them, or if they have questions or concerns before entering into treatment, or any other questions, I can be found on the Contact Page on my website. Thanks again!