Another Acupuncturist, Another Verdict: Shen Disturbance. Makes sense?

Last week I visited an acupuncturist in a different town. As I far as I could tell he’s the only game in the entire country when it comes to Chinese medicine. After a short evaluation he was very confident that the cause of all my evils is Shen disturbance.

According to the classical explanation – Shen is translated as “spirit” and refers to the spiritual aspect of our being. It embodies consciousness, emotions, and thought. According to TCM: Shen resides in the heart and presides over activities that take place in the mental, spiritual, and creative planes.

The acupuncturist said that when the underlying condition is ‘Shen disturbance’ then treating or  tonifying everything else won’t work and cause even more imbalance.

This may answer the question that has haunted me for years: why most supplements have a paradoxical effect and why most TCM tonic herbs help initially but then create more imbalance later.

He said it is true that my empty heat and liver heat stems from kidney yin deficiency but he also said all of it stems from Shen disturbance (aka heart and nervous system). He recommended to address the nervous system before all.

I’ve always figured that subclinical (doesn’t show on tests) hyperactive thyroid or sympathetic NS dominance – explains why I don’t relax so much and can’t sleep during day time.

The rest I can deduce from what I know already: all other issues like weak spleen and low qi stems from dysfunction of the ANS – Shen. That is why tonifying only adrenals or spleen does not work.

When I only tonify spleen I’m stressing the heart. TCM explains that heart is mother and spleen is the child. They are interconnected via the same meridian kind of like a mother and fetus. So when you feed the mother you automatically feed the child but when you only feed the child the mother will suffer.

So now I’m thinking that the strategy must always be to tonify both or start with the heart only if you are in a very fragile state like me. Once you’re able to get some sleep then it is time to start with spleen (digestion).

I’ve always felt that my heart played a major role in the quality of sleep. Heart is the hub center of the nervous system, not the brain. In simple terms, we sleep when our body is cool and when don’t when we’re hot. Even people without chronic insomnia sleep poorly in heat. They toss and turn and sleep very lightly – this is exactly what most insomniacs go through on daily basis because if not the environmental heat then it will be bodily heat that will prevent the heart from resting.

The only thing I’m still not sure whether it is Shen disturbance that causes imbalance in the rest of the systems or other systems like kidney yin deficiency or spleen deficiency (poor digestion) that causes Shen disturbance by not cooling the body properly and letting heat disturb the heart.

It is a well established TCM principle that when blood is deficient it fails to nourish the Shen which gives rise to palpitations, insomnia and fatigue.  This is exactly why I’m more inclined to believe that ultimately it is my compromised gut (which fails to transport nutrients and nourish the blood) that is the root cause of Shen disturbance.

Chasing after Shen alone could be a mistake because, as already noted, there are many factors that can disturb the Shen. So addressing Shen only will only put a bandage on a wound but will not address the infection. In my case, I am not really experiencing patterns of stress, anxiety, or agitation and hence it makes me doubt that Shen disturbance is a direct and root cause of my insomnia.

My strategy from now on will be to gently support my liver and digestion via CBD oil, Poria Five Combo and careful diet; then support kidney yin/yang via non-cloying supplements like shisandra berry, magnesium, fish oil, B6, gelatin and focus my neutral temperature herbs mainly on the heart – the Shen.

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