Student Burn-out, Myelin Sheaths, and the Chong Mai

Since April I have been using all my creative energy for treating patients, preparing a research paper for the student research conference, and planning for a very exciting year ahead. All of this mental activity and sleep deprivation has brought me to an altered subjective experience of reality- as if my head were gigantic, my hands on fire, and everything else shriveled away into its functional minimum. I realized that part of my problem is a temporary over-work induced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, after a quick internet quiz recommended by, which revealed this conclusion:

Serious ADHD Likely!

The above graphic (brain on fire?!) represents what happens when the brain and adrenals are used too often or too strongly, without a proper cold bath of refreshment to mitigate the burning of the hot little brain cells. I realize I have been creating a certain pattern seen frequently in Chinese Medicine. The pattern begins with someone synthesizing large amounts of information in order to transform it into a plan of action in the world, progresses to performing detail-oriented yet novel and stressful work activities and finishes with the frantic fulfilling of banal obligations under a deadline. It’s a recipe for burn-out, and this mental heart-burn gets absorbed by a meridian named the Chong Mai, which more specifically absorbs Excess Fire in the Spleen and Stomach, which are the organs of intelligence and nourishment. To go a bit deeper, as we develop in utero, the Chong Mai creates the Adrenal Cortex and the Marrow (1), which become associated with the spinal cord, brain, kidneys and the gallbladder meridian. When we leave the womb, the Chong Mai then functions as a shock absorber which allows our bodies and minds to function at the level that we demand of them. In my case, the Chong Mai “absorbs” the excess indigestion-brain-fire by lighting up the adrenals and ‘marrow’ or brain-juice, which then perpetuates the cycle of burn-out by stimulating me to embark upon another creative cycle of study or work after I have reached the healthy limit of activity.

Cooling Down! If my neurons were actually babies, this is what they would want to do.

Luckily, in a literal sense acupuncture can cool down and rebuild neurons. It ‘cools’ them down by helping to re-myelinate the neurons, since myelin is a “cool” and “yin” fatty substance that increases the conductivity of the neurons. Acupuncture can balance and build up the yin property by relaxing the mind, balancing hormonal function including the adrenals, and clearing out excess heat (heat which steams away the moisture of yin, leaving a dried up husk. We don’t want that.). Acupuncture rebuilds the structure of the neurons as well by increasing the activity of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor. Although more research is necessary, the fields of acupuncture and neuroscience are producing some fantastic study-babies.

Myelin sheath

Axon:Baby; Myelin Sheath:Water Bucket

Electro-acupuncture has been demonstrated to improve myelination of the spinal cord. A recent 2011 study by the Neuroscience division of the Zhongshan School of Medicine demonstrated that “governor vessel” electro-acupuncture can create functional improvement of demyelinated spinal cords in rats. The study specifically tracked successful remyelination and increased cell number and differentiation of oligodendrocyte precursor cells, which play a crucial role in the reparative process of the myelin sheath. This has directly positive ramifications for those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis,and it continues to build the case for proper adjunctive acupuncture care when dealing with any kind of neuron damage (such as that caused by studying too hard and drinking too much coffee) (2).

Electroacupuncture can also improve glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) levels to help repair injured neurons. GDNF is a small protein that promotes the survival of neurons. A study by the Institute of Neuroscience in the Kunming Medical College showed that acupuncture increased both the number of GDNF-positive large neurons and the number of GDNF-positive small neurons following a partial dorsal root rhizotomy (3).

So, things are looking up for my brain health, yet my feelings of ADHD may be more emotional rather than physical. It seems to me that the balance I’d like to find between focus and relaxation can be facilitated by a healthy Chong Mai. This is the meridian I come back to when trying to bring joy and relaxation into people’s lives. The Chong Mai is most open and happy when singing loudly, sleeping soundly, enjoying intimacy, and eating good food with friends. It balances personal and social life, activity and relaxation, analysis and enjoyment.

Wild Flag having fun at Bunk Bar

Chong Mai – Definition.

The Chong Mai is known as the Sea of Blood or the Sea of the 12 Channels, and its etymology refers to “moving” something “heavy” (the heavy thing is the jing, closely correlated with the marrow). It is called the Penetrating, Thrusting, or Rushing Vessel, which can be interpreted in many ways. It is the core channel which is sandwiched between the Du Mai and the Ren Mai, and thus it penetrates to the interior of our beings; it utilizes the adrenals to thrust us into action; it allows our brains to penetrate to the root of ideas and situations; it represents the act of creating progeny and also the heritage of our ancestry. According to Jeffrey Yuan, the Chong Mai is the person’s architectural blueprint, yet it also works epigenetically as the expression of a person’s set of behavioral patterns and consequent medical history, reflecting the confluence of instinct (“nature”) and culture (“nurture”).

CHONG MAI- pathway and acupuncture points

The Chong Mai connects the Kidney and Heart, or the Will and Destiny. It also allows the Pure Yang of the Stomach to ascend, creating the digestive juices without which we would receive no nourishment. It allows us to use food to make blood and flesh. The blood houses the Shen, or spirit, hence creating another connection between the Chong Mai and a balanced emotional state; if one has deficient or stagnant blood, the Shen will not rest easily in the body and will become too active or disturbed, creating emotional disturbances.

Chong Mai problems may show up in their early stages as merely energy rushing upwards, leading to/resulting from excessive thought and creating a feeling of pressure in the chest or throat, with a tension or empty feeling in the head. Over-thinking can lead to stomach fire and the blockage or deficiency of Qi in the Chong Mai, creating a whole host of symptoms such as hot flushes in the upper body, acid reflux, hormonal imbalance, low back and genital pain, difficult urination and defecation, hypervigilance, depression, and physical accumulations such as nodules.

In women, this over-thinking can lead to more serious pathologies such as breast cancer, according to Zhu Dan-Xi, one of the last scholars of the Yuan dynasty.

Zhu Dan-xi relates: “By eating too much think, heavy foods or by bearing grudges, the portals (of the breast) will become blocked. As a cumulative effect of worry (which damages the spleen and liver by knotting or binding of the qi), a dormant node may develop, hard like a turtle shell (but) with no pain or itching. It takes more than 10 years to become a sunken sore · called suckling breast rock because it forms a depression like a rock cave. It is incurable.

If, at the initial stage of its generation, (one) eliminates the root of the disease by keeping the heart tranquil and the spirit calm and administers certain treatment, there is the possibility of treatment ·” (4)

Madonna of the Ear

Of course we would all love to have tranquil hearts and calm spirits. It is a difficult proposition in this day and age, so why spoil it by feeling guilty about upsetting our Chong Mais? Adrenal fatigue runs rampant, psychiatric medication usage often begins at an early age, and we are subjected to the structural stresses of an industrialized society such as noise pollution and feelings of powerlessness. At this point, I am reminded of an interesting image from Salvador Dali’s “nuclear mysticism” phase, which is the superimposition of Raphael’s Madonna and Child onto the ear of Pope John the XXIII, using a Benday dot pattern which emphasizes the wave-particle theory of quantum physics.

To me this really sums up the modern difficulty of grappling with the dynamic opposition between religion/ family/ traditional values and a radically changing view of existence itself. Dali reflects the renaissance ideals of motherhood and the care of humanity beyond spiritualism, bundled into the ear of a Catholic icon, refracted through particle theory, yet disconnected from reality (or grounded in materialism) by the trompe-l’oile 3-D hovering paper and cherry. I really like the representation of intelligence, nourishment, fertility, and humor, all of which relate directly to the function of the Chong Mai. The ear itself is a fascinating choice. The Benday dots of the image suggest particle theory, contrasting with the ear’s function of translating sound waves into electrical impulses, to create a visual-aural translation of quantum physics. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle seems to be alive here. How can we place ourselves in the context of culture, when the objects of culture themselves are dynamically unstable in time and space? I could bring in a Rocky Horror Picture Show reference but will let you come up with your own.

Back to the human body: the ear itself represents a human body in utero, as Dali directly infers, since the nerve buds of the entire body map to the ear microcosm. The ear and the Chong Mai represent our DNA; the ear’s direct access to our nervous system points out our mechanisms of response and cultural development which affects how our DNA gets expressed, while the Chong Mai gives us the hormonal basis for reproduction and is also affected very strongly by our responses to external stimuli by moderating the adrenal response. Our response to sound is a deeply subconscious act. During the rapid division of cells which become our human form, the eighth cranial nerve (auditory nerve) is the first cranial nerve to form at 8 weeks. This image truly represents the birth of awareness of the world outside of ourselves, of sensory knowledge. It has led me to ponder how sound itself embodies healing, and how sacredness, spirituality, and the experience of living in a cohesive society has been expressed in sound throughout the ages.

Opening the Chong Mai by singing. Singing as connection.

I recently received a treatment from one of my favorite professors, who agreed that I have an issue in the Chong Mai department. She told me to sing in order to open up the abdomen, chest, and throat, allowing sound to help unblock the Chong Mai. I now have another reason to sing in the shower, to the dismay of my neighbors and partner. Maybe I can soothe them with the tones of this singing bowl instead, and relegate my true caterwauling to the car. Tibetan singing bowls are currently used to treat ADD and ADHD, strengthen the immune system, relieve pain, help treat cancer, and assist with neurological rehabilitation. This would be a great adjunct therapy for adrenal fatigue as well. Here is an in-depth explanation from practitioners of sound therapy:

Tibetan Singing Bowls Create Faraday Waves (MIT)

The Chong Mai represents the will to reproduce as well, and this particular wave pattern demonstrated in the singing bowl comes in handy for the alligator’s mating dance:

Alligator creates faraday waves to woo mate:

Now you may be getting an idea of my real ADHD tendencies. Yet I like to think that these connections might spark some deeper complexities of connection that I have missed. Now to get back to the point of the story, which is that I need to relax and soothe the fiery neurons that dominate my adrenaline-fueled school existence. I find that the image below works quite well to harmonize my brain and quiet my heart.

Keep the heart tranquil and the spirit calm.

Magritte's Voice of Space

This stillness with the implication of sound, contextualized in a welcoming pastoral setting, brings tension and peace simultaneously. This is how to hold conflicting ideas and even mutually exclusive ideas together at the same time. This is where I begin to lose concise language with which to articulate my feelings of the endless possibilities represented by the image above, while holding a specific concept of the limitations of human existence within space and time. In the end, though, it all comes back to the cycle of birth, life, and death; a triad similar to the three bells above, holding space in the heavens, yet of the earth.

A final and very key concept in recovering from a Chong Mai imbalance is the importance of sleep, and honoring that cycle of day and night, activity and rest. Meditation and humming can help calm an overactive evening mind. The feelings of being at home and being secure are also incredibly important, in order to allow the adrenal response to relax. The fatalism of the traditional French and Russian mindsets really come in handy when attempting to soothe oneself into a relaxed mental state. The two songs below both reference the sound of bells or chimes, which both bring them through different stages of life and remind them of their home and place in the world; situated in time and space, in relation to their communities.

Sleepy Guinea

Trois Cloches (Three Bells), sung by Edith Piaf:

Lonely Chimes, sung by Ivan Rebroff:

Monotonously the little bell is sounding,

and the dust on the way is stirred up a bit,

and sadly over the plain field

flows the song of my coachman.

There was so much feeling in the song,

so much feeling in the familiar tune,

that in my cool breast

my heart inflamed.

And I recalled other nights,

and the fields and the woods of my home,

and into my eyes which had been dry for so long,

a tear rose like a spark.

Monotonously the little bell is sounding,

slightly echoing from afar,

and my coachman fell silent,

but the way in front of me is still so long, so long. (5)

1 Noll et al., Chinese Medicine in Fertility Disorders (ISBN 9783131489913) © 2010 Georg Thieme Verlag KG

2 Huang SF, Ding Y, Ruan JW, Zhang W, Wu JL, He B, Zhang YJ, Li Y, Zeng YS. An experimental electro-acupuncture study in treatment of the rat demyelinated spinal cordinjury induced by ethidium bromide. Neurosci Res. 2011 Jul;70(3):294-304.

3 Yuan Y, Wang T, Yang Z, Liu F. [Expression of GDNF in dorsal root ganglion after partial dorsal root rhizotomy and acupuncture in spared root] Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2003 Apr;34(2):245-7

4 Dan-xi Z. Extra Treatises Based on Investigation and Inquiry. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, translated by Yang Shou-zhong and Duan Wu-jin. P64.

5 translation of lyrics:


2 responses to “Student Burn-out, Myelin Sheaths, and the Chong Mai

  1. The tension between body and spirit is an everlasting mystery. Sorry that you’re burned out.

  2. my friend- i overstudied and almost burned out in my youth- before being inspired by a tcm practitioner . we have to balance those triple burners.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s