An Introduction to Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine is descended from one of the world’s oldest healing traditions, dating back thousands of years. It is a complete system of medical care using herbal remedies, acupuncture, breathing and exercises (such as Qigong and Tai Chi), dietary recommendations and other types of therapies to strengthen the body, fight illness, and achieve longevity. While such techniques have constantly evolved in response to clinical advances and new discoveries, the underlying principles remain as relevant today as they were five thousand years ago.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has its own unique philosophy and theory that takes a holistic approach to health. Practitioners view the body as a whole entity, rather than dividing it into separate physical parts. Different functions of the body are interrelated and may affect each other. Environmental factors are also taken into account. Thus, rather than treating the disease, TCM enables the healthy functioning of the whole body. According to TCM, health is more than the absence of disease. It offers the ability to enhance our capacity for well-being and happiness. In contrast, Western medicine tends to emphasize the different structures of the body and the direct effect that chemical components of drugs may have upon them. In China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, TCM is used as an alternative treatment to complement western medicine and promote overall health.

To fully understand TCM, it is necessary to know a little about the ancient Chinese philosophies upon which it is based.

Yin Yang Theory

One of the key underlying theories of TCM is Yin Yang theory. The terms Yin and Yang represent substances or phenomena with opposing characteristics, which are in a constant state of flux. Everything has a Yin and Yang aspect, which are mutually controlled and inhibited by each other. The result is a continuous state of dynamic balance. But when the balance of the body is disturbed, it causes an excess or deficiency of Yin or Yang, resulting in health problems.

Five Elements Theory

Ancient Chinese divided the world into five basic elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water, each having their own specific characteristics and properties. Organs of the body can be categorized as belonging to one of these five groups, too, making Five Elements Theory a useful means of diagnosing the causes of disease. Since each of the five elements is interconnected, the dynamic balance of the body can be maintained through the generative and restrictive relationship between the elements.

Chinese Physiology

The physical body is a condensation of chi, the vital life force, which flows into all things. It enters the human body through pathways known as meridians that form a network throughout the body. Each meridian is connected to an organ, and is named after that respective organ. The collective term for all the internal organs is Zang Fu. However, in TCM, the organs are functional units of the body, rather than exact anatomical structures. For instance, the triple burner, classified as an organ in TCM, is a unique concept and does not correspond to anything in Western physiology. Its function is to generate warm energy and water. The internal organs can be divided into Zang and Fu according to their Yin and Yang properties respectively. The Zang organs include liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidney. Their functions are producing, transforming, storing and regulating chi, blood and body fluid. The Fu organs are the gall bladder, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, bladder and triple burner. These are organs with empty cavities for digestion and transmitting nutrients to the body.