Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a system that has evolved over the last 3000 years and offers a unique approach to understanding the human body. The ancient system is used to diagnose and treat health conditions based on natural principles.
The concept of Chinese medicine is based on the idea of “the whole”, with universal concepts and spiritual influence of Daoism. TCM has created a set of practices that are highly reliable and effective in resolving disease and illness and also in preventative health and wellness.
There are five aspects to TCM which are used throughout the course of treatment to balance the body and bring it into greater harmony and health. The five practices are acupuncture, herbal healing, diet, Tui na massage and a meditative and movement exercise called Qi Gong/Tai Chi. All of these share the same underlying principles for treatment but do so in different ways and act on different pathways within the body.
Basic Concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine
All of Chinese medicine is based on the Daoist idea of interdependence in the universe. This means that nothing is independent and that all things have influence on one another. Instead of picking out symptoms, each experience is related to the whole and looked at and examined within a greater context and universal understanding. The human body is examined with the same set of underlying principles as the broader universe and nature.
The most basic concept in TCM is the Yin-Yang theory. This theory was created through observation of the natural world and the evolution of life. The ancient Chinese were experts at recording their observations within nature and theorizing medicine and other healing modalities based on their observation and testing of theories.
Yin and Yang are opposites in nature and yet they depend upon one another for their existence to create relativity. There is no up without a down, and no day without night and so on. These contrasts demonstrate the relationship between concepts in nature.
Building upon the yin and yang theory is the five-element theory. The five element energies are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. They are the elements that make up existence and also rely upon each other to evolve and maintain balance.
Chinese Medicine uses the terms Qi, Essence, and the Mind/Spirit along with the body and fluids. The TCM system maps out the meridians as pathways of energy throughout the body and these points are stimulated by acupuncture. Points on the meridians are stimulated by small needles or by acupressure via pressing on the points. Other practices used in TCM include cupping, Gua sha and auricular ear treatment.
Yin and Yang Theory
The yin yang symbol, which permeates worldwide cultures, is a simple image. Yin and yang are essential aspects of Chinese culture and are as ancient as 700 B.C.E. The theory is a unique expression of a worldview and of the universe. Ying and yang are opposite and complimentary energies.
They are opposite but also interdependent, and one cannot exist without the other. Examples like day and night constitute the theory of yin yang as one cannot exist without the other. Yin yang also shows an inseparable relationship by demonstrating that one always exists within the other and has the potential to transform and become its opposite.
Everything changes and evolves and the yin yang symbol and theory shows that there is always an interplay of elements in opposition and mutuality.
The symbol shows a dynamic balancing that happens automatically and continues to balance the energy indefinitely. We see this as seasons yield to one another and spring becomes summer or winter becomes fall.
Each element will change and balance in relationship to the surroundings as the seasons change. In TCM, when the body is balanced as nature balances itself, then we can experience peace, harmony and happiness in the body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
Five Element Theory
The Five Element theory of TCM is a framework that has been used since ancient times to describe the movement and evolution of events in nature. The five elements are composed of the five prominent elements or patterns of nature.
The elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water are chosen by the Chinese as representative of categories in nature.
The Five Element theory provides a layout and mapping for how nature interacts with the body and how each of the elements impacts us and different aspects of ourselves and our health and wellness.
The five elements are able to demonstrate relationships between aspects of our lives and how we are connected to the environment, and how each of us is involved in a grander cosmic and universal experience.
Many people in modern times have lost the connection to these realms, but the ancient Chinese were very adept at incorporating the knowledge of nature and a connection to spirit through Daoism.
Like yin and yang, the five elements are not still and unchanging, but are instead influenced by one another. One element may help to provide fuel for another element. One element may give too much energy to another which results in that element overpowering of the others. Like in yin and yang, the desire is to bring the body back into natural balance and healing.
Each of the elements is associate with certain characteristics, patterns, symptoms, and diseases within the body. When someone demonstrates a symptom, it indicates in Chinese Medicine that the body is out of balance.
The five element theory allows a practitioner to identify which element is out of balance based on the symptom, then begin to bring all five elements back into harmony through a series of treatments.
Practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine
When a symptom or disease pattern has been identified, the practitioner will use the five branches of TCM to begin to bring the body back into balance.
- The practitioner may use acupuncture which involves inserting needles on the associated or related meridian in order to stimulate the body to begin healing and balancing.
- The practitioner may also use cupping which involves placing suction cups on the body to relieve muscle tension and stimulate deep release or may do a scraping gua sha treatment that involves lightly and vigorously scraping the body to release tension and bring healing through releasing stuck energies.
- Tui na is a Chinese massage that offers a manual healing therapy.
- The practitioner will also ask about diet and will indicate to the patient what types of foods may be causing disharmony based on their own constitution and based on observations of nature and the seasons.
- The practitioner may also recommend exercised like Qi Gong that the person can engage in and promote activity and mental balance through a cultivation of meditative practice.
- Herbal medicine is paramount to TCM and involves prescribing herbal supplements that bring balance back to the body. There are hundreds of herbs and thousands of herbal formulas in the Chinese Materia Medica and many of the medicines have been used for thousands of years.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a practice of observation and action based on thousands of years of engaging with the natural world and creating healing from natural elements. The TCM approach is to do no harm and to balance the energies of the body to restore balance and maintain balance to prevent illness from occurring and encourage a long and healthy life.