Traditional Chinese Medicine (hereafter referred to as TCM) is a complete system of healing that includes herbs, massage, diet, exercise therapy and acupuncture. The main foundation for TCM is that all of creation is borne from two opposite principles, yin and yang, which are in constant motion to create balance within the body. Thus, disease occurs when either the yin or the yang is in a state of excess or deficiency.
One of the main components of the body is “Qi” which is the energy that allows us to do everything – thinking, feeling, working and moving. This qi, or life force energy, moves along a system of channels called meridians. There are twelve main channels of the Qi which are each connected with one particular area of the body. If the flow of the Qi becomes unbalanced, either through physical, emotional, or environmental factors, illness may occur.
The TCM practitioners are trained to see the body, mind, and spirit as one interconnected system. This is different to practitioners of Western medicine, who see each of these systems as being separate.
Simply put, acupuncture is when fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points on the body in order to manipulate the flow of energy. Acupuncture is the therapy that is most associated with TCM but because it is such a broad area of study, please refer to the separate modality on acupuncture for more information.
The five element theory states that everything in the universe is governed by five natural elements. These elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. In this theory, each of the elements is associated with a season, as well as particular organs and senses. The wood element is associated with spring, the liver and the gall bladder; the fire element is associated with early summer, the heart and small intestines; the earth element is associated with late summer, the stomach and the spleen; the metal element is associated with autumn, the lungs and the large intestine; and the water element is associated with winter, the kidneys and the bladder.
To find out what element a person is, the TCM practitioner will ask many detailed questions to gain clues as to the person’s imbalances.
As well as the five element theory, TCM also uses the eight guiding principles to help analyse and differentiate between the imbalances in the body. Even though there are eight guiding principles, they actually exist as four pairs of polar opposites.
In TCM, the combination of the above principles determines the nature of the three constituents in the body. These constituents are energy, moisture, blood. Health problems are diagnosed using combinations of the eight guiding principles.
There are three things that are carried out when reaching a diagnosis in TCM. These are:
In TCM, herbs are used just as much as acupuncture is in order to treat illness and energy imbalances (see herbal medicine). When selecting an herbal remedy, the five element theory, the eight guiding principles, and the tongue and pulse diagnoses are used. The herbs used come from plant, animal or mineral materials. Herbs may be made into a tea or come premixed or in a pill form. There are four basic qualities and properties in Chinese herbs. These are:
In TCM, there is a form of massage called “tui na”, which literally means “push” and “pull”. Tui na massage works with the energy system or Qi within the body and it aims to stimulate or subdue the energy in order to bring the body back into balance. Because it based on the same meridian points as used in acupuncture, it is often called acupuncture without needles. It is believed that the massage regulates the nervous system so that the Qi flows correctly, the immunological Qi of the body is enhanced, and metabolic waste is flushed from the body.
In TCM, the diet is one of the three origins – diet, heredity and environment – or sources of Qi in the body therefore the food that we eat directly influences the balance of Qi in the body, contributing to any excesses or deficiencies. The Chinese approach to diet is based on the five element theory and the eight guiding principles. Foods may be yin or yang, warming or cooling, or drying or moistening. The aim of the diet is to optimise digestion and increase the Qi, moisture, and blood in the body as well as to help the organ function.
As well as the diet, there is a form of exercise called Qi Gong. Qi Gong incorporates such things as posture, movement, breathing, meditation, visualization, and conscious intent in order to purify or cleanse Qi. There are two types of Qi Gong.