The Melbourne-based Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor, Vijaya Kusumah Pandji, is a man who practices what he preaches.
One of our long-time customers here at Indagare, Dr Vijaya has treated a vast range of illnesses and stress-related problems throughout his career as a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine spanning more than 20 years.
He has shared some nuggets of wisdom with me over the years, and I feel blessed that our paths crossed. But I couldn't keep his incredible knowledge to myself, so I asked if we could connect the wonderful Indagare community with Dr Vijaya.
Grab a cup of coffee or herbal tea and sit down for some incredible knowledge nuggets about health and wellbeing with this interview!
Q. What first motivated you to become a healer? And what specifically drew you to Traditional Chinese Medicine?
When I first saw a Traditional Chinese doctor in the early 1980s, he looked at me, took my pulse and said: “You have a sore back.” I was both shocked and fascinated. How could have he known that? From the time I was 16 I had studied meditation, so I was already familiar with Eastern philosophy and the relationship between the body and mind. So,at that moment, I decided I
wanted to pursue Chinese Medicine seriously.
My first teacher of Traditional Chinese Massage was Professor Wong in Melbourne. I found I had a talent and enjoyed the tactical and intuitive side of massage therapy. I loved seeing first-hand the benefits clients felt, even after one treatment. I fell in love with the study and started to have a real dream to become a Chinese Doctor. I began to train in acupuncture with Professor Wong but, curious to discover more techniques, I visited Professor James Li as I heard he had a remarkable talent and came from a long lineage of Chinese Doctors. He was as good as his reputation.
It was through him I met Dr Ratu Pandji Pandita whom I visited as a patient as my thumbs were hurting from massaging clients. Dr Ratu asked me: “How is your relationship with your mother?” and went on to explain that our relationship with our parents can affect the body and mind. I felt quite confronted but was completely drawn from curiosity to discover more about what he knew. This was in 1986 and it was then my real journey training to heal others began! I began studying with Dr Ratu, eventually working with him in his clinic in Hawthorn, Melbourne — which I still run to this day after his passing in 2004.
Dr Ratu taught me so many techniques in acupuncture, cupping, Qua Sha, and massage — but also, advanced meditation practices and ancient forms of martial arts. I started to feel increasingly happy and well … and realised from this energy I was able to give more to my patients. I feel I am always learning, and to be a true healer is to be constantly growing and working on one’s own mind and body. It is an endless journey of knowledge I could never grow tired of!
Q. Do you follow a particular style or practice of Chinese Medicine?
My treatment style focuses on the 5 Element system which diagnoses and treats each patient as an individual. It means no treatment is ever the same and I also advise on diet and lifestyle habits in conjunction with the treatment sessions.
Q. Can you help us understand how the approach to common skin ailments (eczema, dermatitis, acne) from a Chinese Medicine perspective may differ to a western medicine approach?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), skin problems relate to the lung function. The skin breathes and is the largest organ in the body. Skin problems come from heat, toxins, or poisons that are not able to be eliminated. The skin has the capacity to breathe and eliminate these in a perfect state. However sometimes, due to the lung’s relationship to the skin, there can be a build-up of toxins that cannot be eliminated naturally. The skin can then develop eruptions such as eczema, dermatitis, or acne. Eczema can also be psychological: caused by stress, emotions such as anger, shame, guilt, sadness etc. It can be related to asthma, hormonal imbalances, or if the kidney Yin is low. It can be difficult to fix but not impossible. Dermatitis is similar and can be caused by allergies.
Acne can come from different things such as the kidney function or a problem with the lung oxygen source, inflammation, or infection. To treat acne, anything that is antifungal/antiviral will help such as prickly pear, as you use in your products, which will tone down inflammation. This amazing cactus is grown in hot and arid environment: outside is hot but the inside of the plant is cool. Therefore, as a treatment it will create cooling, anti-inflammation, moisturisation, and protection for the skin. In treating allergies, eating food grown locally can really help, including drinking a lot of purified water with the addition of lemon and local raw honey.
Q. How important is diet in Chinese Medicine? Are there some basic principles even novices can integrate to enhance their wellness?
Eat with the seasons and try to buy local fresh produce. In colder months, include seafood, beans, root vegetables, and long, slow cooking. In spring we need fresh foods with little oil, not fried, no garlic or over-stimulating food. In summer, a lighter diet of BBQ, salads and seasonal fruits are essential. In autumn the energy is turning so cauliflower, radish and spicy food stimulate the lungs and a simple diet is best.
For the most part, diet, health, and our Earth have been an integrated part of human life. It is only in more recent times that we have lost touch with this. In some ways this is so logical, as what we get from the external world we put into our body. Surely, we would want that to be something to support our health and happiness?
My approach is one of balance. Yes, we all love a treat! I have found the more we change our psychological approach to food the more we can love it, enjoy it, and live life more fully. We can gradually grow to make choices that in turn support our well-being. I have travelled extensively through Asia, Ukraine, Eastern and Northern Europe and my experiences in tasting the local recipes and culture have been an incredible learning. Food should be a joy, and that joy comes from nourishment that makes us feel happy and loved.
Q. Acupuncture is an integral part of TCM. With most of us focused on supporting our immune system (perhaps now more than ever) can you explain how regular acupuncture treatments might help support immunity response?
Our immune system is the body's security detail and stops external pathogens like bacteria, viruses and microbes that can cause infection. Acupuncture can treat a wide range of immune difficulties, by stimulating and balancing it. It increases red, white and T-cell counts and enhances humoral and cellular immunity.
Acupuncture can also regulate immune function and treat the underlying cause of the disease by reducing symptoms, speeding up the healing of infection, and normalising the body's immune response. By stimulating specific portions of the autonomic nervous system using specific acupoints, which causes the immune system to respond, acupuncture can raise the levels of interferon (one of the immune system’s messenger hormones). Regular acupuncture therapy can effectively treat asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, colds, flu, and viral infections.
Q. While our readers might be familiar with Qua Sha (we refer to this as Gua Sha on our website) as a beauty tool, this treatment is actually used in Chinese Medicine for the entire body. Many modern studies indicate that this ancient wellness tool is effective for pain relief. Is this something you’ve found to be true in your practice?
Qua Sha is excellent for painful musculoskeletal conditions such as a stiff neck, a tight, sore back, headache, etc. I myself have Qua Sha treatments when I am feeling tense and my shoulders are tight from treating so many patients! The change is instant: the soreness goes, I feel relaxed, calm, and my body feels warm again. l also use Qua Sha as an anti-inflammatory modality and have found it to be very effective in treating epilepsy, menopause, influenza, fever, bronchitis, lung infection, and the list goes on …
In TCM, inflammatory conditions can be because a body is too hot or feverish. Sometimes there may be too much wind, which causes tension, or a combination of both. An example is influenza, where there is fever, sweating and headache all present. In this instance I will use Qua Sha with acupuncture to bring the temperature down. In cases of menopause symptoms, when the body is suffering from hot and cold, night sweats and mood swings, Qua Sha is extremely effective. This is because the Yin (or female hormones) are depleted. Qua Sha and acupuncture can greatly alleviate these symptoms and bring body back into harmony by taking out the heat and promoting blood circulation.
Q. We’d love to understand more about cupping. Many of us think of it as being exclusive to Chinese Medicine, but you mention several ancient cultures used it for wellness.
So, Hijama or ‘wet cupping’ was a medical practice done by Islamic people from ancient times. They used it to get relief from pain and for different diseases. I believe the Prophet Muhammad used it as well. However, the Greeks, Arabs, and Persians practised it too and in Europe they have used cupping for centuries. Hannibal Barca was supposed to have brought it with him on his journey through ltaly and Spain.
Cupping is useful for weakness in the body. It can be used to treat fever and colds/flu as it drives out the pathogenic factors and aids in creation of lymph fluids. Thereby, it strengthens the body's defences or ‘Qi’, thus releasing the build-up of stagnant and congested blood. Cupping is extraordinary for gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, diarrhoea, pain, or nausea. It alleviates these problems by moving digestive juices and taking out cold, heat or gas. Rheumatic diseases such as joint pain, rheumatism, and arthritis can benefit from cupping. It aids in blood circulation, so the body gets the nutrients, hormones, and oxygen it needs to perform efficiently.
Finally, what are your top 5 wellness tips we should all try to integrate daily?
1. Start the day with an organic lemon drink. Chop the lemon and leave the skin on! Add fresh ginger, top with warm filtered water, and add a good spoonful of manuka or raw honey.
2. For breakfast, eat two soft, runny eggs. Protein is very important at the start of the day rather than having sugar or carbs — this will stop the afternoon crash of energy when we crave sugar. Remember, eggs don’t have to be boring: you can have grilled mushroom, spinach, tomato, or all sorts of beautiful vegetables to fill you up for the day!
3. Create a discipline for certain times of the day for the phone and email (I know it’s hard!) Time out is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing, as we all know. Without it, the mind will never have time to relax and rejuvenate, stress and anxiety are increased, and our immune system is lowered. I cannot say this enough to my patients.
4. Exercise — even a walk or 15 minutes of breathwork — twice a day if you have time. The physical side will of course help our circulation, but on a deeper wellbeing level we will be more present in ourselves and in tune with what our body needs. Exercise doesn’t always have to be exertion but making it a habit and something that can bring us joy is something I could not recommend more.
5. Meditate. A lot of my patients feel afraid they cannot meditate. They misunderstand it and feel they need to be able to switch off their thoughts and feelings. I can completely relate to this after years of practice and confusion at times! Meditation is to relax, take a breath. It can be in a sitting position, but the most important thing is the posture must be comfortable. The spine being straight is the most helpful, so we can pay attention to our breath. When our mind becomes distracted, we can go back and focus on the breath, gently, without self-criticism.
It takes practise of course, like all things in life. It is a learning that has brought me immense joy and insight into all aspects of my life.
From Tanya, Indagare Natural Beauty: Thank you Doctor Vijaya - I'm sure our Indagare community learned a lot from this wonderful interview. I know I definitely did!
And, if you are reading this and are lucky enough to be in Victoria and would like to book a personal consultation with the wise Doctor himself, visit the website and contact the clinic: www.chinesemedicines.com.au