Students everywhere are almost constantly under the stressors of making time to attend class, do their homework and study to prepare for an impending quiz or exam (Not to mention all of the other parts of life that need daily attention!). All of that stress adds up and takes a toll on your resources. Adequate food and rest, self-care time away from the books and ample physical exercise to keep your qi moving are all very important ways to keep your body healthy during school. When daily habits are not enough to replenish the qi and blood you are expending on long study sessions, Chinese herbal formulas can be the key that gets your body back to where it wants to be. Chinese herbology is very specific to every individual in regards to the exact needs of the individual consuming the herbs as well as how the individual tolerates and digests the herbs. Moreover, the environment of the individual plays a big role in the specific deficiencies that come to the forefront. For example, a student in an incredibly hot and dry city would need more Yin support than a student that lives by the ocean where more Yin could aggravate the already damp environment they find themselves in. All this is to say that the following formulas are widely used by students in my experience, however, they could possibly be the wrong formulas for someone else. Needless to say, this article is not intended to diagnose or prescribe any herbs but is strictly for educational purposes. I decided to split this article into three parts so that it can be read in more digestible chunks.
Xiao Yao San
Xiao Yao San is used for Liver Qi Stagnation with Blood Deficiency. What does that mean? Let’s pick it apart. “Liver Qi Stagnation”- The TCM Liver is also called “The General” of the human organs as it commands the movement of qi in the body. The General requires a certain delicate hand to deal with as it is conditioned to authority and getting what it wants. When trying to promote the movement of qi, we need to be careful not to anger the General as it can and will retaliate when not treated correctly. So, how does anyone convince an authoritative figure to do what they want? You give them what they want, and the General wants (treasures) Blood, so make sure your Liver has plenty of Blood or else it won’t be moving your qi! Why would an internal organ not have enough Blood, a substance we would assume is bountiful in such an environment as the human body? In TCM, Qi and Blood travel together in the blood vessels, since qi is the commander of blood, when qi moves, blood moves. So, when Qi stops moving, blood cannot move, thereby blood cannot return to the Liver. Here is the first function of our formula Xiao Yao San, it encourages the movement of qi, by using Chai Hu. By moving Qi, blood is also moved, thereby returning blood to the Liver.
A very special herb in this formula, Bai Shao (White Peony root, yes the flower!) does two important jobs for the Liver: it generates new blood and it holds the blood within the Liver so that it can soften. By softening the Liver, the General becomes a much more agreeable organ to be around, and it will be much happier doing its job! This is a big reason for the second function of this formula “Tonify Blood”. In Chinese medical thinking, all of the blood in our body returns to the Liver at night so that the body is at rest, the mind is at home (our mind, or Shen (spirit) lives within our blood) and sleep can occur. When the Liver is hard, blood cannot enter. My professor explains the therapeutic method of providing the Liver with more blood like this: when soil is incredibly dry, water will run right out of the bottom of the pot when you try to water your plants. Instead, you must soak the soil in water so that the soil can regain its ability to hold on to the moisture. The same works for your Liver, it needs to soak and be softened by blood so that it can retain the blood. When this is achieved, the Liver is returned to its harmonious state.
Chinese Medicine works by recognizing the relationships between the organs of the human bodies and how to return them to a harmonious state. When the Liver is depleted and refusing to do its job, it will actually reach over and attack the Spleen! The Spleen is the “Latter heaven root of qi engenderment”, which means that if the Spleen is not working, or is under-attack, then it will not be creating new qi from the food you feed it. To make matters worse, the Spleen is the home of our “Yi”, often translated as thought or intention. We need to use our Yi when we study or else, we become unfocused and confused. Moreover, when the Spleen is depleted from its battle with the Liver, we become lethargic and sluggish. Needless to say, we need to get our Spleen on the mend before we can hit those books. Good thing the ancient masters who devised this formula knew all of these inter-related battles of the human body! Two important friends of the Spleen are included in Xiao Yao San, Bai Zhu and Fu Ling. These herbs work to drain the dampness that accumulates when the Spleen is under performing, thereby giving the Spleen firm grounding to stand up to the General. Simultaneously, Bai Shao and Chai Hu (a strong Liver qi moving herb) are working on placating the Liver and pulling it away from the Spleen. With all four of these herbs working together to balance and make the Liver and Spleen happy, blood and qi can be created, moved and used. It is in this way that Xiao Yao San can be an effective student formula. Included is a quick graphic of the four mentioned herbs:
This formula is especially useful in people with a tendency towards irritability, high stress and chronic tension in their neck and shoulders. Please consult with a Chinese Medicine herbologist before beginning any TCM formulas to make sure that it will benefit you. I hope that this article has been an informative look at Xiao Yao San!