Book Review by Sharon Weizenbaum, L.Ac.

A Walk Along the River, by Yu Guo-Jun, a translation that came out this spring, has delighted many of us with its nuanced case discussion between a master and several physicians studying with him. We asked Sharon Weizenbaum to review the book for the Shen Nong Society monthly newsletter:

I use most of my Chinese medical books as reference texts.  I become familiar with what is in the book and then look things up in it as I need to.  I’ve not had that motivation since Huang Huang’s Ten Key Formula Families, came out in 2009.  Now, with the publication of Eastland Press’s A Walk Along the River, by Yu Guo-Jun, I am hooked again.  Except this time, I am not only reading this text carefully, I am taking 

notes and even making flash cards!  I know it sounds a bit obsessive to do this but this text is filled with such incredible clinical gems and I want to make them my own. 

Already this text has made a difference in my clinical experience and results.  For example, in chapter 7 Dr. Yu describes his use of a formula called Gua Lou San.  He writes:

“As a young doctor I initially treated herpes zoster following the common custom of prescribing Long Dan Xie Gan Tang.  I treated many cases…sometimes effectively and sometimes not….later, white thumbing through Cheng Guo-Peng’s Qing dynasty text Awakening the Mind in Medical Studies, I came across a passage where Cheng elaborated on the dynamics of the function of Gua Lou San: ‘This formula is for chronic fire from constraint, where Liver Qi has been parched, tight, and unable to diffuse; thus blisters arise on the skin and give rise to distention and pain.’ …I am entirely convinced that this formula matches the fundamental disease dynamic of herpes zoster and is the perfect specialized formula to use for this disorder.”

Soon after reading this, my mother called to tell me that she was feeling pain reminiscent of her previous run in with herpes zoster.  Based on her pattern and what I had read from Dr. Yu, I gave her Gua Lou San and her pain did not develop as usual.  Rather it faded away quickly. 

I thought of another patient with neuropathy secondary to multiple sclerosis.  She was on a heavy medication for the neuropathy which gave 

her the side effects of headache and mental fogginess.  Her liver was very dry and tight so I gave her Gua Lou San as well.  Within two weeksshe went off of her medication and has now had no pain and no medication for several months.  She took four weeks of this formula altogether. 

I have other examples of Dr. Yu’s influence in my clinic life however, his influence goes beyond his insight about herbs and formulas.  In the paragraph above, Dr. Yu shared that “as a young doctor” he worked in a limited way that was consistent with his training.  We learn, throughout this text, how Dr. Yu so carefully paid attention day after day, patient after patient.  He was not initially a master.  He was just like you and me – floundering about trying to make sense of poor results.  What makes him stand apart from many is that he kept at it.  I find it almost funny that he describes himself as “thumbing through” Cheng’s text.  It is so clear that he became more and more familiar with the early writings and applied the words of these predecessors in his clinic and watched to see the results for himself.  He carefully thought things through and is able to describe his thinking process for us.  We are so lucky! 

The text is a conversation between Dr. Yu and some of his students.  This format makes the text very accessible for me.  He is kind and patient.  I hope this can inspire practitioners to stick with it, study deeply and pay attention to the nuances in the clinic.  In case after case, Dr. Yu learns from his own or other doctor’s mistaken treatment, always trying to understand what he was missing. 

This text will be required reading in my future herbal programs.