The truth is, I knew very little about traditional Asian medicine. Whenever I’m sick, ironically, I avoid the doctor like a plague! I hate medical clinics and hospitals, the sterile walls and being around ill people. I only go if I have to.
While studying at UVic for my Applied Linguistics Diploma, professor Sandra Kirkham introduced the concept of two very different approaches to medicine. The western approach, which usually entails treating symptoms and prescribing drugs which generate lots of money for private manufacturers. These may produced negative side-effects discovered only years after the drug has been sanctioned by local health authorities. Other times, ‘miracle’ drugs, like the one that apparently clears up HIV, are promoted and even limited to wealthy clients due to high prices dictated by unscrupulous patent holders and manufactures.
One thing that really impacted me in Dr. Kirkham’s Culture and Communication Linguistics class was an introduction of an old video about traditional Chinese medicine. The documentary followed a US doctor who wanted to find out the secrets of traditional medicine, and whether it really worked.
He attended traditional hospitals and observed doctors. These doctors prescribed numerous herbs and roots to target malfunctioning organs causing manifestations of illness. The doctor also looked at acupuncture treatments which assisted the ‘chi’ or life force to flow through a patient’s body. By disrupting the body’s ‘meridians’, traditional doctors addressed energy blockages which caused symptoms called ‘illnesses.’
The doctor witnessed tailor made massages, which moved around the inner parts of the body to work on illnesses including cancer. The footage also looked at regular practice of Tai Chi by many in China, and how movement and maintenance of the flow of energy is considered an integral part of general health maintenance. I realised that western health approaches treat symptoms, but Chinese traditional medicine seeks to heal the cause of the problem.
Years earlier, my interest in traditional medicine had first been kindled when I learned that my friend Van, living in Vancouver Canada, had received several traditional treatments with Asian doctors, including acupuncture and diet prescriptions to improve her health and deal with unbearable allergies.
Additionally, while travelling in Saigon two years ago, I meet Johnny, a Canadian cancer survivor. He revealed very interesting opinions on western medicine. He explained that he had been diagnosed with cancer, but rejected western treatments that involved running radiation through his body using a pill. He was told that he would not be able to stand within ten feet of a pregnant woman while on this treatment.
Johnny explained that his aunty was diagnosed with cancer at the same time that he was. While his aunty followed the hospital chemotherapy treatments, he rejected them all, and put himself on a very organic, healthy lifestyle.
Five months later, he was alive, and his body had eliminated the cancer, while his aunty had passed away. He bitterly expressed anger at the western medical system, and said that he believed that doctors know far more about how to eliminate cancer than they let on. That western medicine is big business, and that at the expense of many lives, specialists sustain their expensive drugs, rather than admit that wholesome food and self awareness about lifestyle can in some cases eradicate even serious conditions. But, the promotion of diet and lifestyle is not profitable for drug manufactures.
As an expat living in S. Korea, I’ve was recently presented with the opportunity to learn about alternate, traditional medical approaches. A few months ago, I attended a meetup event to enjoy vegetarian food organized by event host, Johncito, from Seoul Village meetups. The restaurant was located opposite Jogye-sa temple, and catered to non-meat eating Buddhist monks who popped across the street to eat the excellent quality wholesome food provided at this restuarant.
Dr. Yoon also attended this expat meetup event. Over a delicious dinner, Dr. Yoon explained to me that as a person with a slight figure, I most certainly have a fast metabolism, and that I should avoid ‘hot’ foods, including turmeric and cinnamon. Soon, not only was I curious to learn more, but everyone else at the meetup was too. So Dr. Yoon offered to show us his clinic located around the corner, where he would give us a little tour. Host Johncito was happy to alter our evening plans to accommodate his curious meetup guests, and within minutes, we were poking around in Dr. Yoon’s clinic.
Everyone threw random questions as him. Can acupuncture help with this? Can it help with that? How can this be treated? One woman made an appointment for the following Monday, eager to discuss her rosacea skin condition and begin treatment as soon as possible. It occurred to me that westerners, or non-Asians, often have very limited knowledge about Asian medicine, and what treatments are available. After a discussion with Dr. Yoon, we agreed that I’d return to experience and write about traditional treatments.
On June 17th, I visited Dr. Yoon to learn more. I was curious about what clinics like his offer, what kind of approaches are used and what exactly can be treated. We only had about an hour together, but in that time, we decided on three treatments for me. These were based on my personal concerns and his evaluation of my current health.
Digestion was a concern for me. I recently (and very reluctantly) went to MizMedi hospital where, after some bloodwork tests to test my liver function, the doctor revealed that I had dangerously low protein. These results explained my severe tiredness of late, and she had advised me to immediately begin incorporating small meat portions with almost every meal.
Having recently been reminded of my poor nutrition, I wanted Dr. Yoon to focus on my core, my stomach, and upper and lower intestine. He explained to me clearly exactly where all these organs were in my body and that the upper intestine absorbs water while the lower absorbs the nutrients from my food. I quickly began to realise that all those instant noodles dinners were starving my body of nutrients, and the very next day, I did a massive shopping which entailed lots of veggies, starches and meat.
We also discussed my ability to retain water in the body, how much I sweat, my weight and other factors. Dr. Yoon explained that the stomach is a major source of energy in the body. He explained that in traditional medicine, the body is divided into ying and yang, cool and heat, and he concluded that although my upper body had a lot of heat, but that my stomach was a little cool. He then applied a device to my stomach that slowly began to warm it up. He explained that to give my whole body more energy, that my stomach and intestines needed more warmth.
Meanwhile, we also began discussing my kidneys. I explained to Dr. Yoon that the doctor at MizMedi was worried about my alcohol intake. In short, my MizMedi doctor had noticed from my liver function blood test that I had high levels of alkaline phosphate and when she asked how much alcohol my body processed regularly, I confessed that since arriving in Korea, I had been binge-drinking, on a bi-weekly or monthly basis with my work colleagues.
So while my stomach was receiving warmth to create body energy, Dr. Yoon began working on my liver through acupuncture. This was my first experience receiving acupuncture, and I noticed that he targeted particular points along my body, including my feet, legs, hands and arms. Sometimes, the pin tip would hurt a little, and I learned that what Dr. Yoon was doing was temporarily closing meridians in certain places so that the efficiency of energy flowing through the rest of those connected channels would be improved. Something was definitely happening within me because after a while, my arm containing two pins began to feel physically heavy.
I took the opportunity to point out to Dr. Yoon a cluster of spider veins on one leg that are threatening to become varicose, and asked whether he had any treatments that help with that. Dr. Yoon then gave me a basic lesson about how arteries are connected to the heart, while veins are connected to the liver. He continued that, outside of cosmetic surgery to remove unsightly veins, the root cause of my veins is once again, my unhappy liver. I essentially need to take better care of it.
On a completely different note, I noticed something very unusual after these two treatments, and I cannot pin-point which of these treatments was responsible. When I initially arrived at the clinic, I had been feeling very anxious and upset about something that happened earlier in the day, but after these two treatments, my hormones completely changed. I felt relaxed and the change was so marked that I was surprised at how quickly this changed happened.
While lying down and receiving belly warmth and treatment for my liver, I asked Dr. Yoon about treatments for acne. I have some hormonal outbreaks on my chin area, and wondered if traditional medicine offers healthy remedies for this kind of monthly lady problem. He suggested we do an acne treatment, but because I was wearing make-up and planned to rendezvous with friends downtown directly afterwards, we decided to reserve that treatment for a future date.
Instead, I asked whether he had any anti aging treatments for frown lines developing between my eyebrows. He replied yes, so we moved to a different treatment room where I was asked to lay down. I saw a little purple bag and naturally gave it a squeeze. I realized it had warm liquid inside it, and before long, Dr. Yoon had wiped between my brows, had inserted a needle into the purple bag, and began injecting the filler between my brows.
I may have received small five injections which were a little painful. Dr. Yoon explained that not only would this filler plump out the skin, reducing or eliminating the lines for four weeks (depending on the quantity used), but also that the substance was nutritious herbal medicine which brightens the skin. Essentially, herbal fillers are absorbed into the cellular tissue and are a far healthier alternative to western plastic fillers that last much longer.
I was delighted to hear this because for the last six months, I’ve been considering getting botox treatments from my local laser surgery clinic, but as a former esthetician with a background in administering anti aging treatments, I’m acutely aware that botox (and similar stiffening treatments) are poisons which your body eventually digests into the blood stream, and while effective, these are not particularly healthy for humans. I had heard of fillers before, but as a non-Korean speaker, I had not successfully found a filler treatment yet. This filler, to my surprise, is natural and even healthy for the skin.
The next day, I noticed that the area was a little bruised from the injections, and several days after the treatment, it is still a little sore. But, I noticed that I can still frown. The muscles are not frozen. The area however, is plumped out, and the lines previously there are gone!
Other treatments available
There were many other traditional treatments offered at the clinic. As a gynecologist, as well as dermatologist and traditional medicine doctor, Dr. Yoon addresses problems related to the vagina using traditional methods. I observed a herbal vapour treatment used to treat Puritis Verginitis. The clinic also treats women for menstrual cramps.
I am personally interested in his treatments for acne scaring, and intend to begin said treatments on my next visit. Dr. Yoon explained that although acne treatments require a few visits, they are very successful. I have many large pores on my T-Zone that are in fact tiny scars. The treatment sounds like the equivalent of facial resurfacing or laser treatments, but done in a holistic manner. I intend to write about this treatment in my follow-up blog. Please subscribe to get notifications of future articles.
Dr. Sook-yoon Lee, Pibro Haniwon Skin Women Clinic, 26 Insa dong, 5 gil, Tel: 02-3667-1577
My treatments were provided free of charge by Dr. Yoon for the purpose of experiencing first-hand traditional Korean medicine at work, and producing an article based on my experience. All opinions are my own.
Which treatments have you received by traditional doctors that have surprised you, and what was your overall feeling about the experience? What ailment would you be interested in having addressed using traditional medicine methods?
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