In the last article, A Look at Traditional Chinese Medicine, Part 1, I gave a brief overview of Chinese Medicine and then discussed its Taoist roots.
Today I will continue with the discussion.
I finished the last article by saying that all aspects of Chinese culture, and especially the arts and sciences, are meant to be reflections of the Tao. In other words, all aspects of Chinese culture have a chief aim: to cultivate and produce harmony with the Universe.
And from this aim does Chinese Medicine arise.
The goal in Chinese Medicine is to help a person become healthier by being in harmony with the Universe. This is achieved by helping the person achieve a flow within their body, and have that flow resonate with the flow of nature and the Universe: in other words, it is the chief desire to have a person be in synch with the pulse of the Universe.
In Chinese Medicine, it’s all about chi – or more correctly spelled these days, qi – flow.
The beginnings of Chinese Medicine, many millennia ago, was rooted in observations of nature. The wise sages who originally formulated this medicine believed that as long as a person was like water, and like trees that could bend but not break in the wind, that they followed the same path as the Tao, and in that way, they could then be healthy.
From there came the earliest ideas, that health was about maintaining good flow, and that disease set into the body when there were problems with the flow.
From this basic concept did this system of medicine develop. One of the first textbooks in the pantheon of Chinese Medicine was written 2,000 years ago, and is still revered today. Called The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, it is a dialogue between the Yellow Emperor and his physician, Qi Bo.
From there, over the eons many other books that are still revered in Chinese Medicine were written – some on herbal medicine, some on acupuncture, and some that are on theories of illness.
All these books, and the thinking behind it, allowed for the flowering of Chinese Medicine and for it to become a very sophisticated and profound form of medicine. And over time, different theories were developed, including Yin-yang, the Five Phases, the human body Meridian/Channel system, Zang Fu organ theory, six confirmations, four levels, deficiency/excess, emptiness/fullness, hot/cold, wind, dampness, pathogens, internal/external, qi (several different types), essences, body fluids, vessels, and more.
The first step in being treated by a Chinese Medicine doctor is for the doctor to make a diagnosis. To do that, the doctor uses the diagnostic tools inherent within Chinese Medicine.
These tools can be classified as touching, seeing, smelling, hearing and questioning. The most well-known touching diagnostic tool is pulse diagnosis, whereby the doctor palpates the pulse in six different positions to feel for pulse quality.
The most well-known of the seeing diagnostic tools is tongue diagnosis, in which the doctor looks at the tongue and observes the color of the tongue, the color of the coat, and various other markers that appear on the tongue.
Using pulse and tongue diagnosis, along with other diagnostic approaches, the Chinese Medicine doctor can then make a Chinese Medical diagnosis, which allows for treatment to take place, whether with acupuncture, Chinese herbs, dietary therapy, qi gong, tui na, or some combination, to take place.
Most doctors of Chinese Medicine will usually specialize in one of the main treatment modalities, as opposed to being proficient in all. Each of the main treatment modalities – acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, dietary therapy, qi gong, and tui na (think osteopathy) – takes years of training to become a master.
In the West, schools of Chinese Medicine train students to be able to do most of the modalities, but in reality, each of the modalities is a discipline of and by itself, and takes many years to master. That is not to say a practitioner can’t successfully do a number of the modalities, but to do so takes a commitment to really learn the skills.
As a Western student and now practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I learned all the modalities, and the ones I primarily use are acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and dietary therapy. If push comes to shove though, and someone told me I could only practice just one modality, I would choose Chinese Herbal Medicine.
I keep a pharmacy of about 200 raw herbs, and I create herbal formulas in the same traditional/classical way as the ancient sage doctors of Chinese Medicine. I love getting my hands on the herbs, as it connects me to an ancient and sacred past.
But just the same, I know most of my patients think of acupuncture as the main modality of Chinese Medicine, and so that is my primary practice.
Most people in the U.S. don’t realize how much research goes on in China into the use of Chinese herbs for many chronic ailments. Cancer is a big specialty in Chinese Medicine, and in China herbal medicine is an important tool in fighting cancer. Much of the research into using Chinese herbs in the treatment of cancer goes into Chinese medical journals, but sadly, not much of that research gets translated and published in Western medical journals.