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Traditional Chinese Medicine


Chinese medicine has a very long history, some say at least 4,000 years. 

The roots of tradtional Chinese medicine (or TCM) are derived from Taoism and other ancient philosophies about Nature and humankind’s place in it.  These philosophies still have powerful influences on the culture and the people of China today.  Fortunately, much of the literature pertaining to Chinese medicine, at least for the past 2,500 years, has been preserved.  An example is the famous Huangdi Neijing, or Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, written around 2,300 years ago and still frequently cited as a reference.  There is a richness and a beauty contained in the ancient writings and they form the foundation for  a wealth of empirical evidence attesting to the power of this approach to healing.  I should mention that the tradition of trial and observation continues today and much research is being conducted regarding new approaches and new applications of Chinese medicine. 

The underlying principle in Chinese medicine is the balance between yin and yang, the opposites with which all things are imbued.  Yin tends to be more substantive, colder, slower, more inward, lower, quieter; yang tends to be more action-based, hotter, faster, outward, higher, more exuberant.  Nature prefers a balance of yin and yang.  In the case of humans, when there is an imbalance or disharmony we experience consequences: signs and symptoms of physical illness, disturbances of the mind or the spirit, and the like. 

One concept in Chinese medicine that is very different from western medicine is the idea of qi (pronounced “chee”).  Roughly translated, qi means “vital energy.”  The Chinese character for qi is composed of the radical for breath or steam and the radical for rice.  Qi flows through the body with the blood, in the space between the skin and the muscles and in channels called meridians.  Its functions are to moisten and nourish the tissues, promote the function of the organs, protect against outside factors, transform, transport and to maintain balance and harmony.  Influencing qi is the way by which Chinese medicine works to establish and maintain wellness. 

Elements of TCM include acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion, cupping, tuina, herbal medicines, nutritional therapy, counselling and qi gong.  Acupuncture involves puncturing the skin at specific points on the meridians using tiny needles.  Acupressure is simply applying pressure at the same points without using needles.  Moxibustion is applying heat to points and meridians.  The heat is usually derived by burning an herb, artemisia vulgaris.  Cupping stimulates points and meridians by applying suction to the skin using various types of suction cups.  Herbal medicines have always been an important component of TCM.  Prescriptions generally consist of several herbs in fixed proportions.  Some commonly used combinations date back thousands of years.  Tuina is the Chinese version of massage therapy and also includes aspects of manipulation, similar to chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation medicine.  In Chinese culture, food has always been considered to have healing properties and specific foods target specific organs.  Just as in western medicine, in TCM lifestyle issues play a prominent role in restoring and maintaining a state of wellness.  Counselling focuses on finding the proper balance regarding exercise, diet, relationships, work and other aspects of daily living.   Qi gong is a discipline of meditation, breathing exercises and movements that has four primary goals:  acquiring qi, purifying qi, directing qi and projecting qi.  The first three are very helpful tools in self-healing and in maintaining wellness.  The fourth, wai qi zhi lao, or external qi healing, is a means by which an individual may use his or her qi to help someone else. 

Methods of treatment and point selection are based on the pattern of disharmony as determined by history of the illness and various observations.  In Chinese medicine, tongue and pulse examinations are particularly important. 

In the modern era, the capabilities of TCM have been expanded by such innovations as microsystems (such as auricular or ear acupuncture), electro-acupuncture, far infra-red therapy and even laser therapy.

In TCM, the goal of treatment, regardless of method,  is to influence qi - to promote the free flow of qi and blood, to reduce excesses, to reinforce where there are deficiencies, to quell heat, to warm if there is cold, to expell wind, to balance yin and yang, to harmonize.  This, in a nutshell, is what traditional Chinese medicine is all about. 

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