The Significance of the Chinese Zodiac

This year, the year of the Dragon, is one of the most desired Chinese zodiac signs.  Dragons are believed to be powerful, confident and talented.

In the west, there are astrological associations with personality types as well, matched to a cycle of one year rather than revolutions of twelve. Correlation with a constellation or animal’s personality is not meant to be esoteric or magical.  It is simply the astute recognition of relationships between human and nature. Depending on what zodiac year or constellation you were born into both systems recognize underlying tendencies which reflect the year of your birth, the season, and influence of the moon and starsWhatever relevance you feel the zodiac plays in your life, the point of knowing astrological correlations was not designed as blind doctrine in either east or the west. A sign neither defines one’s qualities nor excuses one’s behaviour, but rather, informs what we may need to temper or awaken in ourselves to cultivate our greatest health and balance. Zodiac correlations could thus be considered a mirror to inspect one’s strengths, weaknesses and propensities.   A zodiac sign with predilection to stubbornness or jealously, for example, encourages one to be aware of and manage the tendency rather than give in to it as if preordained. A zodiac sign encourages us to ‘tune our instruments’, make conscious choices and observe our actions.

While on the surface the Chinese zodiac is a correlation with the personality traits of an animal, in actuality, it is a method to mark the cycles of nature in small and large revolutions.  This reminds us that the timing of our choices and actions lends to luck or misfortune, encouraging us to be conscious of the changes inside and outside of us to live each cycle in harmony.

The ancient Chinese were constantly searching for patterns and repetitions to understand the world around them and predict and prepare for coming years. Calendaring the movements of sun, moon, and stars was one of the highest mandates in ancient China. Through incredible observation, they recognized patterns in the sun and moon, the stars and seasons, and repetition in a 12 year cycle. Thus, the zodiac has 12 animals.  The ancients noted recurrent changes through 5 cycles of 12 years, as well as 10 revolutions of 12. Thus, to achieve the greatest longevity is to cultivate balance within oneself, to live through 10 cycles of 12 and achieve the ripe age of 120!

Changes for us in 2024

As Andrew and I personally look at whether we are making the choices to age ‘successfully’ in our 5th cycle of 12, we recognize the important balance between self cultivation and our clinic’s not for profit mission to pass on the medicine we learned from our teachers. We thus gently begin to shift away from teaching to large groups around the world, and focus on deeply training select individuals at our clinic in Asheville.

2024 is our first year to welcome long-term residents, and are excited to introduce Loren Stiteler and Tonia Scharpantgen. Both have trained with us for many years, and were selected for an in-depth year long mentorship program. Their mission is not just to learn from us, but to take exceptional medicine back to their home clinics and become the next generation of scholar-practitioners.  We are excited to have them with us as they give back to our community through practice sessions and increased availability for wellness treatments.  We hope you will support their development by booking treatments, giving feedback and helping them hone skills. This, we feel, is the capstone to our mission to continue our teacher’s legacy of great medicine.


Foot Massages Now Available!

With Tonia and Loren on board, I am ecstatic to announce we now have foot massages available. If you haven’t experienced a Chinese foot massage, please treat yourself to this fantastic service! Foot massage is truly what I miss the most since returning from China. Andrew and I, with our children Ian and Niame (28 and 25 years old this year), enjoyed foot massages every week when we lived in Beijing, admittedly a much more affordable treatment compared to massage in the west.  In China, rows of reclining armchairs in large open rooms allow business men and groups of friends to relax and chat away over a cup of tea.  Foot massage is not only common for all walks of life, it is a crucial component of successful business deals! As a culture that recognizes the importance of longevity, Chinese foot massage utilizes bodywork and pressing points on the feet to relax feet and legs, improve circulation, stimulate internal organs and enhance the immune system.

While our clinic cannot re-create the vibrant social experience of a foot massage in China, it is the wellness treatment I am most excited to offer. I will be receiving a foot massage as often as I can, and hope to reverse some of the aging my body is humbly revealing!

As New Year holidays, east and west, encourage us to demarcate a moment of time, it is a wonderful excuse to reflect, and return to being conscious of our actions and our choices.  If each day is deemed anew, we have each new day to enjoy as the gift it is. I wish all of you a wonderful year to come.

JulieAnn, Asheville February 2024

2024 Is The Year of the Dragon: Are You Ready?

My teacher, Dr Xie Pieqi, used to say: “Age is not the number of years we have lived, but the number of injuries we ignore. As they add up, we slow down. We are able to do less and less, and we blame our age instead of addressing our injuries.”

It is certain we are responsible for how we age, yet our age is not responsible for how we feel. As I personally approach 60, I am taking this to heart in 2024. It is never too late to put our health first and enjoy age without infirmity. My own focus this year is addressing my ignored injuries and illnesses–and I invite you to join me in this commitment to self-care and wellness at our clinic.

To make ourselves healthy again, we are expanding our clinic team. Along with JulieAnn, myself, David and Hannah, we have two seasoned practitioners training with us for a year long residency: Loren and Tonya. Both of these practitioners will focus on treating physical injuries and rebuilding body-health. We also welcome Danielle Hill to our team as massage therapist. Dani is excited for immersion in our clinic while she completes her Chinese medicine degree. We are training her in several Chinese massage techniques to ensure her treatments don’t just make you feel good, but address those old injuries and make you better!

Join me in my commitment to self-health in 2024–whether you see me as a patient or you gift yourself wellness treatments from our excellent staff, I urge you to take charge of how you age. Whether you are young and proactive or aging like me, everyone has something they can work on. Let “Be Well This Year” be your motto.

On behalf of all of us, I thank you for your support of our not for profit clinic.  We in turn are thankful to be part of your health-care team.  Schedule an appointment in this new year and take that first step to living your best–regardless of how old you are.

Andrew Nugent-Head
founder & Chief Practitioner
Alternative Clinic Asheville

The oldest surviving Chinese materia medica, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica), categorised 365 herbs according to three categories: 120 ‘upper’ (上 shang) herbs, 120 ‘middle’ (中 zhong) herbs; and 125 ‘lower’ (下 xia) herbs. This article discusses the clinical implications of this tripartite organisation, which goes far beyond being a mere indicator of the level of toxicity of the herbs documented. It also includes a discussion of the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing’s categories of jun, chen, zuo or shi (chief, assistant, envoy and messenger), the meaning of which differs significantly from the typical current interpretation of these terms.

The First Materia Medica- The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing

Herbs classified by upper middle and lower category by the Shen Nong Ben Cao and Ming Yi Bie Lu:  SNBC & MYBL herbs


Yin Style Bagua is system of personal cultivation that can be divided into two major categories: martial arts and health. The healing practices of YSB include the practice of Chinese medicine to heal others and the practice of internal cultivation (Daoyin, often referred to as Qigong) to heal oneself of illness and maintain vitality into old age.

The self healing side of Yin Style Bagua contains 3 major practices. They were drawn from Daoist and Buddhist roots and then interwoven within the Book of Changes understanding of the universe and of the human as its reflection.

• The Eight Healing Sounds of Yin Style Bagua

• The Twelve Guiding Energy Sitting Meditations of Yin Style Bagua

• The Luohan Patting System of Yin Style Bagua

These videos are available from our store at, as part of the Healing Without Medicines series filmed with Dr. Xie Pieqi.  Below, find Andrew Nugent-Head offering a brief introduction to one of the three Daoyin practices of YSB; the Luohan Patting System.

Patting Introduction Video

Simple Patting Practice


Please find the video instructions for large pot preparation below:


Please find the video instructions for thermos method herb preparation below:


Please find video instructions for stovetop herb cooking method below:

If the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) is the flesh and bones that make up classical Chinese thought and culture, then Lao Zi’s Dao De Jing is its heart and soul. Continually sparking new translations and commentaries, it is second only to the Christian Bible in the number of books, commentaries, writings and arguments generated since it was first ‘published’ in the Warring States period–and it is certainly the most important for any practitioner or scholar of the Chinese arts.

Long the dream of ATS founder Andrew Nugent-Head to translate and elucidate this classic in the manner in which the late Professor Wang Jin-Huai taught him, Andrew has begun sharing the Dao De Jing in seminar format.

We have created this page as a resource for our patients to watch and learn more about the Eight Healing Sounds which are part of the Chinese medical paradigm of Dao Yin, commonly understood today as internal cultivation, or Qi Gong.

Traditionally, a doctor would practice internal cultivation to keep his own body healthy, as well prescribe sounds and other Dao Yin exercises to patients.  In Chinese, Dao Yin simply means guiding and leading.  In these videos one guides their attention, breath and sound to different areas of the body, and thus leads and flows circulation.  By having good flow and circulation the 100 diseases will not manifest.  We hope you enjoy these videos.

Ways To Practice the Eight Healing Sounds

01 The Ah Sound

02 The Ha Sound

03 The Heng Sound

04 The Hu Sound

05 The Mer Sound

06 The Xu Sound

07 The Yi Sound

08 The Hong Sound

Questions About The Eight Healing Sounds?

Today’s herbal paradigm is largely influenced by western science, applying herbs for disease names and chemical components.  This is not the foundation of how herbs were applied by great scholars of Chinese medicine for thousands of years.  JulieAnn Nugent-Head works to reframe the application of herbs today, staying within the Chinese medicine paradigm when practicing Chinese medicine. To learn more on the topic of the classical perspective of herb use, see below for JulieAnn’s article published in the Journal of Chinese Medicine:

Returning Our Focus to the Flavour and Nature of Herbs

While Chinese medicine began 2,400 years ago, the acupuncture and herbology taught in the People’s Republic of China today is dramatically different from its traditional practice. The last 150 years have had a greater impact on its evolution than at any other time in its history. To truly understand the state of Chinese medicine today, one must begin in the mid 1800’s. China was under the rule of a corrupt and weak Qing Dynasty; foreign powers were carving ‘spheres of influence’, essentially occupying its sovereign territory; and the Opium War ensured an epidemic of addiction among its population. Chinese intelligentsia began to face the reality that its culture was neither as strong nor as powerful as that of the foreign countries they had considered as uncouth barbarians. They came to believe that China had been focused on the achievements of its past, whereas foreign powers were focusing on developing the new, the modern. They saw that China’s closed borders policy to the outside world had kept it from the inventions and discoveries of the times and believed China had to modernize in order to remain a sovereign power of influence. This movement grew until eventually the Imperial court was overthrown and the Republic of China was founded under Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yatsun) and the Nationalist Party in 1911.

The Nationalist Distrust of Its Own Traditional Medicine

With the desire to modernize also came a distrust of China’s traditional knowledge. The backlash against traditional customs was far reaching, outlawing everything from wearing the ‘cue’ of long hair to its own medicine. In 1928, the Nationalist government declared the practice of Chinese medicine illegal, believing it superstitious and backward compared to the growing influence of penicillin based western medicine. This was not without some justification, as during those times of war, turmoil and hunger, a large amount of charlatan practitioners similar to snake-oil salesmen in America’s Wild West were at work throughout the cities and countryside. This was coupled with the introduction of penicillin from the west, a miracle cure and proof of the superiority of all things modern at the time. While unsuccessful at completely outlawing Chinese medicine, it was forbidden in hospitals and government organized health facilities. Now existing outside of the official medical system and lacking regulation, an even larger number of charlatans outshadowed the authentic lineages of Chinese medicine being passed on in teacher-disciple relationships.

What then followed was an incredibly violent and difficult period of history for China. A Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation lead to great sympathy for the underground Communist movement. As Communism began to gather momentum, a civil war was unleashed on an already battered country. When the Communists emerged victorious and founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, traditional knowledge and teaching methods had already undergone almost 100 years of hardship.

Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Early Years of Communism

In the first years of the People’s Republic of China, the Ministry of Health simply continued the policies that existed under the Nationalist government towards Chinese medicine. However, as the depth of poverty and illness left from decades of war became apparent, the government encouraged any type of medicine, Chinese or Western, to help the masses. This lead to the creation of government sanctioned institutes for the study of Chinese medicine and the establishment of Chinese medical hospitals. For a brief time, old doctors of great lineages found themselves respected by the government and teaching in schools. However this support of traditional medicine was set against the backdrop of the catastrophic famines that followed Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward. By the end of 1961, efforts began to remove him from power.

The Cultural Revolution and Chinese Medicine

In order to retain control, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and purged those in the government against him. The propaganda of the revolution was all things of China’s past were the source of its current difficulties, and the old practitioners who were just recently brought into the educational system found themselves labeled as counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the state. They were removed from administrative and teaching positions within Chinese medical schools and purged from the governing bodies within the Ministries of Health and Education. Many of them were jailed or died during that time. Chinese medical institutions quickly shifted from traditional theories to current scientific models of Western biomedicine in order to weather Communism’s anti-traditionalist campaigns.The Divergence of Traditional and Contemporary Chinese Medicine

After the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, China spent the next three years rebuilding an educational and medical infrastructure. This included the reopening of Chinese medical universities. However, in a bid to seem modern, the only the aspects of acupuncture’s traditional theories which matched with western anatomical and neurological models of the body were stressed in the teaching curriculum. Studies into the active single chemical ingredients of herbs became more important than thousands of years of experience and knowledge combining them together as a whole. Marginalized, the traditional practitioners were replaced by a younger generation of doctors convinced that like the New China growing around them, a new biomedical research based medicine would be far superior to its traditional origins. Viewed as unscientific in their methodology, the last generation of doctors were seen as interesting sources of empirical techniques instead of repositories of traditional theory. Tragically, traditional theories that did not fit the new model or did not meet with Communist approval were removed from the textbooks and curriculum, their clinical application and understanding at risk of being lost forever.The Chinese

Government’s Efforts to Document Traditional Medicine

By 1979, some members within the government were aware of the schism existing in the practice of Chinese medicine. Just before retiring, the Director of the Chinese Medicine Department in the Ministry of Health, Lu Binkui, established a National Association for Chinese Medicine and launched a project to record elder doctors throughout the country. Unfortunately, in spite of his efforts, the persons in the positions of authority to implement the project were the very doctors convinced of the superiority of a modern based medicine. As a result, their documentation efforts were so skewed in this manner that traditional practitioners found themselves being patronized by young science-based researchers. Angered by this treatment and still living in fear from the Cultural Revolution, the practitioners offered them little real information. In turn, the young researchers took this as proof that traditional medicine had little to offer the theoretical foundation of modern Chinese medicine. By the late 1980’s, the disparity between the clinical efficacy of the few traditional practitioners still in practice and that of the Chinese-Western combined medical practitioners had become too obvious to ignore. In 1990, the government launched a teacher-disciple training program in an effort to recreate a traditional training environment. In a country of over a billion people, the government only found 500 traditional doctors still able to take on and teach disciples. Each of the doctors was assigned two students who were to learn their theories and strategies, carrying on their knowledge after they passed away. Stringent criteria were drawn up for the students: they had to be in practice for over 15 years; they had to have a position of at least deputy-chief doctor; and they were not allowed to have a western medical background so as to influence their thinking of the traditional medical paradigm. The old doctors were very moved and excited, but soon found that the implementation of the project was ineffective. Finding suitable students was very hard, and those chosen were often too busy to really spend time with their mentors. Having already been in practice for such a long period of time under the current system, they often had their own thoughts on treatment methodology too firmly ingrained to absorb their teachers’ thinking. In turn, the old doctors found that these students were seeking more effective techniques to apply immediately rather than applying themselves to the discipline of learning traditional perspectives on treatment that requires time, attention and diligence.

The Challenges Facing Traditional Medicine in China’s Emerging Market

Today, China is the world’s fastest growing consumer market. Boasting population of over a billion people, the battle for their new-found income is growing at an incredible rate. ‘Traditional’ medicine has become a highly profitable and often fraudulent market as the Chinese seek answers to lifestyle issues such as obesity, impotence, high blood pressure, diabetes and beauty enhancement. Doctors claim miracle treatments for everything from cancer to hair loss to breast enlargement, Chinese medicine ‘cure-all’ pills have flooded the market, and clinics touting specialists are appearing everywhere. While more legitimate, even the state run Chinese medical hospitals have established upscale treatment facilities as income generators in the face of dwindling government subsidies. The more reputable clinics do their best to hire the last of the elder doctors still in practice, but their focus is on using them is financial, not altruistic. Suspicious of the motives of students and institutions who approach them in these money focused times, the doctors are wary of trying to pass on their experience during their last years.

The Association for Traditional Studies in China

With almost 30 years of expertise preserving, documenting and disseminating the knowledge of traditional practitioners in China, ATS has embarked on a new initiative to protect the Pre Communist practice of acupuncture and herbology from extinction. Spurred by the recent passing of several of the traditional practitioners it had actively worked with since its inception, ATS is concentrating its preservation efforts in China over the next 5 years. Within the next 5 to 10 years, it is feared that most of this last generation who were born and educated prior to 1949 will have passed away. Those still alive will most likely be too old or infirm to actively record their clinical skills. As a part of this new endeavor, ATS is expanding the visibility of this work so that the voices of this last generation can help shape the Western understanding of traditional medicine as it becomes accepted into the current medical paradigm of integrative medicine.

Coined by Andrew Nugent-Head in response to the esoteric perspectives of Chinese medicine in the west, The Alternative Clinic focuses on tangible, effective results for patients and practical, relevant training for licensed practitioners. To read more about Tangible Medicine, please view Andrew’s article published in the Journal of Chinese Medicine:

JCM Tangible Medicine Article