- How does TCM differ from conventional Western medicine?
- I have heard that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient healing art; how old is it?
- How do you discover the patterns of disharmony?
- How does treatment proceed?
- Is this where the acupuncture comes in?
- Can you explain the term “Traditional Chinese Medicine”?
- What does acupuncture feel like?
- What about herbal medicine?
- What are other types of treatment?
First, it is important to note that TCM is far more than just acupuncture. Its paramount goal is the balancing within the body of Life Energy, a force known as Qi (pronounced “chee”). TCM also recognizes the spiritual and emotional components of disease.
While conventional Western medicine aims at treating specific pathology or disease, TCM is a holistic philosophy that looks at the entire person, body, mind and spirit, to determine ‘patterns of disharmony,’ which may lead to disease. Once identified, these patterns will point the way toward diagnosis and a regime of treatment that is specific to the individual.
It is important to understand that the goal of TCM is not only to relieve symptoms of disease but to understand and to treat the underlying causes of disease, thereby restoring the body, mind and spirit to a balanced and harmonized state.
The oldest and most revered text in the canon of TCM is called the Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Ching), that dates from the second century B.C.E., which gives TCM a history of more than 3,000 years. It contains the framework upon which TCM is practiced today. However, since ancient times, untold thousands of practitioners have added to the knowledge.
The accumulated knowledge of the centuries regarding the use of herbs, acupuncture, diet and exercise, among other treatments, is available to modern doctors and their patients. In China today, scientific research continues to explain and expand upon the knowledge of the ancient writers, and TCM is considered to be commensurate with Western medicine.
First, I take a detailed history of the client, which includes all physical, emotional and psychological factors and symptomology. Then I conduct a physical examination, which includes such things as taking the pulse, from which I can determine many more factors than merely rate and strength. I check the appearance of the tongue, a primary ‘barometer’ of health.
I formulate a diagnosis from information revealed by examination and history, and draw up a treatment that is specific to the individual. Treatment may consist of acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal treatment, diet therapy, exercise, and/or Tui Na, massage and manipulation techniques or any combination of these. Almost always, there is a recommendation for changes in lifestyle and eating habits.
Acupuncture prevents and treats disease by means of the painless insertion of very slender needles into the skin at specific points on the body. At these ‘acupoints,’ the flow through the body of Qi (Life Energy) can be manipulated along discrete pathways (or meridians) within the body; it can be balanced and obstacles or blockages to the flow removed.
Moxibustion is the gentle application of heat from a burning herb called moxa or artemisia, to the acupoints. It can be used without acupuncture for those who are very weak or hypersensitive to needles.
Primary to TCM are the classical studies that have been its basic philosophy for 3,000 years. There are four distinct disciplines in TCM: acupuncture, herbology, massage therapy (Tui Na) and diet therapy. TCM also includes the study of yin and yang, which aids in a diagnosis; and the Five Element theories, which link the body with the external world. Then there are studies of internal medicine, the five sense organs, skin diseases, gynecology, pediatrics, gerontology and the conventional Western disciplines of anatomy, physiology and pathology. Some students today are required to master such modern sciences as biology, immunology and microbiology.
An imbalance or blockage of Qi results when the body succumbs to external pathogens (such as cold, wind, heat, dampness), and manifests itself in such symptoms as pain or organ malfunction. Restoring balance and removing blockages is the essence of healing.
Acupuncture is an unfamiliar sensation to most people, but not painful. Many people report a profound and often transcendental experience, not unlike deep meditation. There may be a tingling sensation or even the feeling that electricity is flowing between the points. It is usually accompanied by relaxation of the skin and muscles, deep and gentle breathing, a sharpening of the senses and a general feeling of well-being. Pain and other symptoms may entirely or partially disappear, and after treatment there is a sense of deep relaxation.
In a few cases, symptoms may not be alleviated immediately (or may even be temporarily exacerbated) but a definite improvement is experienced over the next 24 hours.
The use of herbs has always been fundamental to the treatment of disease in TCM. Most often they are used in conjunction with acupuncture. Herbal formulations are complex and unique, prescribed for each client’s specific diagnosis. They can be taken as pills, in capsules or in infusion as tea. Their function also is to facilitate the flow of Qi, remove blockages and to nourish the organs and harmonize their functions, thereby restoring the health and well-being of the client.
There is a Chinese medical therapy called Tui Na in which massage and manipulative techniques are applied directly to the body, following the energy meridians and utilizing the acupoints to stimulate and balance the flow of Qi. This is used for the treatment of certain injured tissues, to influence internal organs and to remove blood stasis; that is, to stimulate the flow of blood. As with moxibustion, it is often particularly effective in treating the very young or very weak client.
Diet therapy (also called Food Cures) has an important function in nourishing the body’s organs and maintaining resistance to illness. Traditionally in China, diet varies from season to season in order to best protect the body from the effects of the seasonal elements. The Chinese system of food cures incorporates the various qualities of flavour, energy, movements and actions of different foods to nourish the body and its organs, in moving the blood and facilitating and balancing the flow of Qi.
Some foods have beneficial qualities, while others have properties less supportive of good health, and may even aggravate some illnesses. Therefore a balanced diet, tailored to the individual and comprising foods that are beneficial to a specific condition, becomes yet another tool for healing illness and maintaining good health.
In exercise therapy, certain movements combined with deep concentration on learning to move Qi through the body can act directly on the body. This facilitates and promotes the balanced and unobstructed flow of Qi, as well as relaxing and focusing the mind and benefiting the spirit. Exercises such as those in the disciplines of Tai Qi and Qi Gong can also enhance harmonization of body, mind and spirit.
It is most important to remember that proper food and exercise are also primary factors quoted in conventional Western medicine in the prevention and healing of disease. The quality and length of your life depends largely on to what extent you are able to harmonize your body, mind and spirit in pursuit health.