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Eastern Approaches to Clinical Therapy

by Gretchen De Soriano(more info)

listed in massage, originally published in issue 77 - June 2002

Case Studies from the Kailash Files

Ester's Case

Desired outcome: stable pregnancy, healthy child;

Therapy: three different approaches; Western medicine diagnosis of an auto-immune disorder, treatment by Chinese acupuncture and Kanpo Japanese herbal medicine.

Ester had one daughter when she developed Grave's disease (hyperthyroidism), and began experiencing the symptoms of hyperthyroid, and of asthma. She was visiting an acupuncturist local to where she lived, and was successfully treating the breathing problems and panic attacks. Ester had a strong desire for another child, but had had three miscarriages, attributed by her GP to the treatment for Grave's disease. She asked herself: was she really having to choose between her own health and having a second child? Thinking on these terms exacerbated the panic and the breathing problems. Sarah's acupuncturist suggested the assistance of a Kanpo herbalist.

The Kanpo herbalist noted Ester's slight frame and the strong energy passing through it, and understood the problem to be yang (energy) rapidly consuming yin (blood). This called for a nourishing tonic, a formula to make the yin strong enough to sustain the yang.

Thai Massage
Thai Massage

Frequently formulas to enhance fertility nourish yin and make the blood strong. The herbalist chose a simple formula famous for enhancing fertility and watched Ester's response. The panic subsided. Asthma, when experienced without any underlying lung disease, as in this case, Kanpo understands as yang energy escaping upwards. This is not an unusual condition, nor difficult. It also is responsible for nausea during pregnancy, and for frequent miscarriage.

Sarah fell pregnant and, persuaded by her specialist hospital unit, she stopped taking the herbs. Subsequently the panic attacks began and she miscarried.

Ester reassessed her choices. Just how safe was the Kanpo formula she relied upon (for panic) for the use to which she intended to put it? The next time she became pregnant, she made the personal decision to take the herbs throughout her pregnancy, because as she said, "I got pregnant while taking them so this baby is already used to the herbs."

Sarah now has a very healthy baby girl.

Comment: A herbal formula given during pregnancy needs careful consideration, and that is the strength of Kanpo, which repeats well-known formula. A Kanpo practitioner will be able to select from classical formulas with a safe record for use in delicate conditions.

Dexter's Case

Desired outcome: Pain relief and restoration of mobility;

Therapy: Thai yoga, and home practice of yoga.

Dexter was a man of 50 who had sustained a back injury; he walked with difficulty, could not straighten his back, and struggled to stand long enough to shower. His physician diagnosed a slipped disc; examinations showed it to be protruding from the left side, causing a dystonia, both muscular and neural. Dexter had spent a week in the National Neurological Hospital, with no beneficial results.

He was then sent to a physio centre for back rehab treatments common to stroke patients, again with no success. Another consultant had offered an epidural, in an attempt to deal with the muscular distortion and pain. His doctor prescribed various types of medication for pain relief, but Dexter was dissatisfied with the lack of results, and the disagreements among the consultants. He considered that he was being encouraged to undertake procedures that carried risks of their own.

He began a course of Thai yoga, which is a type of floor work consisting of massage and acupressure along with applied hatha yoga stretches.

He so enjoyed this that he took up the yoga postures at home, doing a type of 'lazy man's yoga' every morning for about an hour.

He now has complete movement and is pain free. Recently he cut down his home yoga to 20 minutes in the mornings, because he has resumed employment. With this, the practitioner suggested he visit an osteopath.

The technique works on all the ten energy meridians, called 'nidi' in India. It is not diagnostic, but works up and down each of the lines in turn, and lasts about two hours. The practitioner works in a rhythm, which is a spiritual practice, said to be a meditative application of love and kindness.

Comment: This is also a story of integrating complementary therapies, yoga and Thai massage from traditional Asian medicine (TAM) and osteopathy. The patient was highly motivated to risk a new therapy, as he believed things could get no worse.

Aliko's Case

Desired outcome: return of menstruation;

Therapy: Tibetan medicine.

Aliko is a young woman who had stopped the contraceptive pill and whose periods had not resumed. Here is her experience of Tibetan medicine treatment:

"My GP had been baffled and I had had blood test after blood test and a series of investigative procedures involving cameras that I do not like to remember. I was told it was a hormonal problem, and was advised either to re-start the pill or to wait it out. After the first year with no results, I began trying Chinese herbal medicine, with no result. I liked taking the herbs and preferred the diagnostic method of asking questions and looking at my tongue and pulse to what the GP had to offer. I heard about Tibetan medicine from the same place where I tried the Chinese medicine. I had read about Tibetan medicine and was intrigued about the prospect of meeting the Tibetan doctor. The Tibetan doctor could not speak English but was accompanied by an assistant who acted as translator. This doctor saw auras and during the consultation watched the area above my head. I felt as though there was more going on than the physical. My urine was collected in a 250ml glass bowl and examined. My wrist pulses were examined and there were questions about lifestyle and diet. I was given two sets of pills, one to be taken at night and another in the morning. I had a period within a week, and for the next five months, though not at regular intervals. I saw the assistant for the follow-ups, and since all was going well, I stayed on this prescription for about five months. By the end of the year, I was regular. Sometimes I feel as though I should have carried on with this treatment; I remember feeling very energized, and having clear-headed thinking."

Comment: I like this case because the patient experienced results so quickly, and noticed other improvements seemingly unrelated to the improvement of her chief complaint. She became aware of herself on a different level, always a good sign in a young student.

What These Cases Show Us

The above three cases show how complementary medicine can be successfully selected by informed people, and how science – which can be used to help define a health complaint – may not offer the best treatment.

Collecting the information to choose therapies is a responsibility of the individual. To help get acquainted with authentic TAM a good place to start is the Kailash in London[1] – the Tibet Charitable Trust. The Trust maintains the Kailash Medical Centre, dedicated to the clinical practice of authentic TAM.[2]

TAM refers to the indigenous medicines of continental Asia and to those directly evolved from the ancient systems, the Yuanni (Arabic medicine, the Chinese and the Ayurvedic


These are all in practice in their native environs, making them living traditions. While certain of the TAM are well known in the West, others are more rare, and even in their homeland the arduous training has meant that practitioners are few. In central London at the Kailash, Tibetan physicians practise the same treatments formerly reserved for the Dalai Lama.

Mongolian healers of the Mongolian Buddhist tradition join them.

Touching, seeing,[4] asking, listening[5] and intuition[6] are the diagnostic criteria for treatment.

For Aliko, in the third case example, the physician watched the aura of the patient, examined urine and asked questions. For Dexter, in the second example, touch was a factor and all the meridians were treated equally with no diagnostic decision made. For Ester, in the first case, the Western diagnostic method helped the practitioner to understand how tough the odds would be for recovery. An intuitive 'long shot' worked, enabling the use of a very simple and common formula for a complex set of problems.

Higher Order Integration

In all the cases, the traditional diagnostic systems cut through a tangle of conflicting scientific data to the higher order understanding of how to right the problem. I have named this system where the patient self-refers to a complementary medicine 'higher order integration'.

The above case studies begin to show a pattern: that the patient will do the referring, and will self-refer according to effectiveness.

The good points of this system are that the patient moves away from ineffective treatments by self-assessing the symptoms.

The failures in this higher order integration system are chiefly administrative, and relating to the ability of the patient to pay for the therapy. A weakness of higher order integration would be illnesses in which there are no symptoms for the patient to access to reflect progress accurately.

How to Choose

Higher order integration calls for a variety of information to be available to the public. For the traditional Asian medicines, the Kailash offers a book selection, pamphlets prepared by each tradition and trained staff, who have experienced most of the therapies first-hand.

A realistic assessment of what each diagnosis requires is not too difficult to understand from the literature.

People too shy to speak frankly about their concerns might do better where intuition or touch play a larger part. If someone has no patience with the concept of self-purification or dietary control, it may be pointless to consider the Ayurveda. Likewise, the needle-squeamish should avoid acupuncture, and those who "can't remember to take them" are not going to get the best benefit from herbs.

How Wide is the Scope of the Kailash Therapies?

Indian Ayurveda and Panchakarma, the detoxification activity, are available in the style of both India and Sri Lanka. Male and female practitioners of Tibetan medicine, from both Dharamsala and Darjeeling, visit the centre. The Vietnamese tradition offers acupuncture and herbal medicine with an emphasis on the I-Ching. There is traditional Chinese medicine and, in addition, the accompanying massage therapy called Tui-Na. The Japanese therapies of shiatsu, Kanpo herbalism and acupuncture find a strong presence. Mongolian healing and the Mongolian Buddhist traditions can be found. The traditional Thai yoga described in Dexter's case and Indian head massage are represented. For those wishing to take a more active role in the processes, there are reiki, various meditation classes, different systems of yoga, and tai chi.

Integrated Medicine or Higher Order Integration?

Integrated medicine is the mixing, serially or contemporarily, of a complementary medicine (CM) treatment with traditional Western medicine (WM). What comes to mind here is the gatekeeper system, where the WM doctor stands at the approach and directs the patient towards an appropriate CM.

It is said that what prepares the gatekeeper for this position of authority is arduous training in the science of medicine. What maintains the gatekeeper's position of authority is that it is the sole means of funding.

Some Western medical doctors are said to be dually trained. Can a dually practising doctor be a gatekeeper? And, if so, is it appropriate for such a person to open the gate to himself?

My experience and the experience in the cases represented here are that an informed patient is the best gatekeeper.


1. Kailash is the name of the most sacred mountain in Tibet.
2. Profits from the Kailash Medical Centre go to the Tibet Foundation.
3. For more on these ancient medical systems refer to the bibliography.
4. This includes seeing the person as nature intended, and is not limited to mere physical sight.
5. Listening can also be described as taking in and is sometimes translated as smelling.
6. Intuition has fallen out of favour recently, but correctly used it is a powerful diagnostic tool.

Bibliography (from the Kailash Library)

Baker Ian. The Tibetan Art of Healing. Thames and Hudson. London. ISBN 0-500-277996-9. 1997.
Van Alphen Jan. Oriental Medicine: An Illustrated Guide to the Asian Arts of Healing. Serindia Publications. London. ISBN 0906026-36-9. 1995.
Young Jacqueline. Eastern Healing. Duncan Baird. London. ISBN 1-903296-09-9. 2001.


IASTAM, Newsletter of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine. Welcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, 24 Eversholt Street, London NW1 1AD.
Welcome Institute Lecture series.


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About Gretchen De Soriano

Gretchen De Soriano studied life sciences at the University of Iowa, and trained in traditional Asian medicine at the Tokyo School of Acupuncture, Moxabustion and Bonesetting. She spent a clinical year in Beijing in the Foreign Student Dormitory. She is the founder of the principal teaching school in the Japanese herbal medicine tradition, the Kanpo Apprenticeship. She has been in practice since 1980, and works within the NHS. She studied law in London and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2001. She practises traditional Japanese medicine at The Kailash Centre of Oriental Medicine, 7 Newcourt Street, London NW8 7AA; Tel: 0207 722 3939;

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