If you have been following my website for a while, you already know that I strongly believe in the use of herbs for a better life.
In this article I will explain why we need tonic herbs in our society and how adaptogens, these stress-fighting herbs, can help us control our stress levels and therefore live a happier and healthier life.
Table of Contents
The need for tonics in our society
We live in a modern society where the rhythms are fast-paced and hectic. People push themselves beyond their physical, psychological and mental limits and often find themselves wasted and empty.
Our society was kind enough to provide us with various ‘tonics’ which can be found at arm’s length. Such tonics are coffee and power drinks which most of the time end up being everyone’s fave breakfast, and in some cases, have become a part of our lunch and dinner in order to try to make it through a 48h day.
But how far can you survive on overdrive? If you push a car to its limits, do you think it’s still going to run the same after a decade?
You really don’t need to be a mechanic to understand that the car will eventually break down and collapse and will then need to be repaired in order to get back on the road.
And yet, we do this to our bodies every day. This hectic lifestyle is the lifestyle of stress:
- must work harder
- must meet deadline
- must go to the gym
- must get ripped
- must go party
- must drink more coffee
- must must must MUST!
All this stress is bombarding our entire system and turns our body into a time bomb. Blood pressure goes up, heart palpitations go up, our breathing becomes restricted, hormonal profiles screw up and sleep goes out the window.
Of course, needless to say that we need to eat right and rest enough but even those can only take us so far. Sometimes not even a good nutrition and sleep will be able to protect us from what is about to come.
Diseases, inflammation and cancer.
So what can we do? How can we fix this?
Medicine? Chemical compounds and pharmaceuticals only add to the problem and can lead to aggravation of health problems and/or addiction.
When all is lost, we turn to tradition. What did our ancestors do thousands of years ago? They took herbs. And not just any herbs, they took tonic herbs – better known as adaptogens.
What are adaptogens?
As the name suggests, adaptogens are a class of tonic herbs that modulate the patient’s body to receive the necessary adjustments in order to be able to thrive. When it comes to stress, adaptogens fine-tune our system in order for us to handle it better along with all the emotional, physical and psychological changes that we are about to undergo.
But adaptogens do not just stop there with their stress related benefits. They have the power to help an organism adapt to any external or internal environmental change. External factors can be anything from aging to an open wound. Internal factors can be psychological such as depression and anxiety. Overall, they play an important role on both the mental, physical and emotional/spiritual level.
Ron Master Sung Jin Park (Ron Teeguarden’s teacher) makes a great distinction and compares our life to a burning candle.
The wax of the candle represents our body (Jing or Essence), the wick represents our core, our life force (Qi or Vitality) and that sustains the flame which is our spirit (Shen).
The purpose of tonic herbs is to replenish and support Jing and Qi so that Shen can be developed.
There are 15.000 herbs in TCM, out of which only 300 are classified as tonics. This means that only 1 in 300 herbs are an adaptogen.
The Rules of adaptogens
According to most herbalists and TCM practitioners, a tonic or adaptogenic herb must follow certain rules in order to be classified as such.
- An adaptogen must not have any side effects when taken in normal doses.
- An adaptogen can be taken for long periods of time and still yield results.
- It must work synergistically with the body and have a normalizing effect (to protect from external or internal changes or even act therapeutically).
- It must promote overall health.
- It must aim to prolong life.
- It must be able to support our emotional and psychic bodies in order to promote a state of well-being and overall wellness.
- It must support or contain at least one of the 3 treasures (Jing, Qi, Shen)
- It must taste good enough in order to include in dishes (tonic herbs are often part of Chinese diets).
Classes of Herbs and tonics in T.C.M.
There is also a distinction of 3 classes in tonic herbs:
- Superior or primary,
- General or secondary,
- Inferior or companion.
Superior (or primary according to Master Herbalist Donnie Yance) are the herbs that aim in overall fine-tuning the body by directing nutrients and energies to places where it is mostly required. Also these can be taken in any amounts and for long periods of time without any side effects. These should be the base of your herbal treatment. Master Herbalist Ron Teeguarden calls these rulers.
General (or secondary according to Donnie) are the herbs that are partly medicinal and partly nutritional and aim to either heal or prevent conditions in the body. These are part of the protocol and support the rulers. Ron refers to them as ministers.
Inferior (or companion according to Donnie) herbs are purely medicinal. These can be harmful when taken in large doses or for long periods of time. These are mostly indicated for use against colds and problems of the immune system and are used in smaller portions than the other the 2 categories in a protocol.
At this point, I need to mention that the entire adaptogen phenomenon cannot be fully interpreted by Western Medicine as it is known today. However a lot of adaptogens still remain under medical investigation and a lot of the mechanisms as to how they work are not fully known yet. This is one of the reasons why Western doctors do not use or sponsor the use of adaptogens for therapeutic or preventive purposes.
As you can see from the above facts, adaptogens are a must for supporting our bodies in these highly demanding times. While energy drinks and drugs often give a temporary boost and hurt our physical bodies beyond repair, adaptogens are able to provide us with nutrients and the energy that we require to keep going. These wondrous herbs can sustain our energy levels and keep us healthy for longer periods of time.
This concludes part 1 of my 2-part series on adaptogens. In my next article, we will dive deeper into the benefits of adaptogens and how you can use them to sustain your health, improve your energy levels and battle stress in order to live a life that is strong, healthy and free.
Do you use any adaptogens? If so, which ones and for what purpose? Let me know by leaving a comment below. Also, make sure you share this article so that everyone learns about this majestic secret of the herbal kingdom.
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by Nick Sigma
CWC, EH, E-YRT200
- Book: The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
- Book: Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden (Japan Publications, 1984)
- Adaptogens by Donnie Yance