Chinese medicine is an ancient science based on the concepts of Qi ( or Chi), or vital life force, and Yin and Yang, the fundamental energies of the universe. Herbal medicines and acupuncture are used to ensure the smooth and vibrant flow of Qi, and the balance of Yin and Yang throughout the body.
Philosophy of Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine dates back at least 3000 years. Acupuncture, one of Chinese medicine’s primary limbs, has become widely recognized as effective in treating many modern illnesses. Chinese herbal medicine has received acclaim as a proven alternative to Western drugs for many conditions.
Still, there is an mysterious aura around Chinese medicine that we’ll simplify here so you can integrate it into your life as you pursue optimal health.
The concept of Qi or Chi (sounds like chee) is very important in Chinese medicine. Qi is translated as “energy” and is called “Prana” in Ayurveda. It is also referred to as the vital life force. If Qi becomes weak or is blocked, imbalances, or disease, develops.
Another fundamental element of Chinese medicine is the primordial philosophical concept of Yin and Yang. Chinese philosophy expounds on these ideas with elegance, but we’ll discuss their practical applications.
Yin and Yang are the two fundamental energies of the universe. Yin is the cooling, fluid, internal, female, lunar energy, and Yang is the heating, sharp, external, male, solar energy.
Let’s start with some details about Qi:
The Qi of each internal organ must be strong for overall well-being. If Qi becomes weak due to poor diet, stress, pathogens, or overwork, disease develops.
Traditional Chinese medicine excels in offering exercises (such as Tai Qi and Qi-gong), herbs, and medicinal therapies (such as acupuncture) to strengthen your Qi.
In Western society, one of the most common Chinese patterns is Liver Qi Stagnation, otherwise known as stress. In Chinese medicine, the liver controls the free flow of Qi, so when there is stagnation, the liver is always involved. Stress is a major cause of stagnant Qi .
Under stress, our emotional and physical bodies contract and the flow of Qi goes from flowing smoothly to being stagnant. When our internal energy is stuck like this, we can feel nervous or agitated.
Have you noticed how much better you feel, both physically and emotionally, after exercising? Anything that moves Qi can help relieve stress. Acupuncture very effectively moves Qi.
It is interesting that in Western culture alcohol is one of the primary things people use to relieve stress. While alcohol does temporarily relieve Qi stagnation, it is toxic to the liver and it actually causes more Qi stagnation over time.
Stagnant Qi can also cause pain, and it is common for people to feel tightness and pain in their necks when stress is high.
Yin and Yang basics:
Everything in the universe can be viewed as having both Yin and Yang present within itself. In the body these energies exist as a microcosm of the universe.
Our Yang digestive fire awakens as the sun rises in the sky. We are active and awake due to the predominance of Yang energy during the day.
At night, Yin rules and we respond by resting and rejuvenating.
A mother’s intrinsic Yin nature is reflected in her physical nurturing of a newborn.
Likewise, a father’s inherent Yang strength and dedication supports and protects his family.
Good health results from a balance of Yin and Yang. When one or the other is excessive or deficient, disease results.
Excess Yang may cause fever, ulcers, or skin rashes. A deficiency of Yang energy may cause chills, pale skin, and lack of appetite.
The aim of acupuncture and Chinese herbs is to sedate any excesses and tonify any deficiencies in the internal physiology that are causing the symptoms of illness.
Chinese Five Elements
Chinese medicine, like Ayurveda, views the universe as being composed of 5 Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.
These elements interact and are interrelated in many ways. Each of the major internal organs corresponds to a particular element, and treatments for disease are determined according to the elements involved.
Through various methods of diagnosis, a person’s predominant element can be determined. This serves to explain their personality, body type, and health tendencies.
If dis-ease is present, it can be diagnosed as an imbalance of one or more elements.
Acupuncture is by far the best known aspect of Chinese medicine in the West. Western science is attempting to determine how and why it works, yet the exact process remains a mystery.
According to Chinese medicine, there are 12 major meridians, or energetic pathways, that lie like a road map on the surface of the body.
Along these pathways are hundreds of “points” or “wells of energy.” Each point has a very specific function and effect.
Stimulating these points, either with needles, massage or heat, brings the energies of the body into a more balanced state.
Acupuncture also moves any Qi blockages, thus improving health and relieving pain.
Understanding the basic philosophy of Chinese medicine is extremely useful for anyone interested in natural medicine and optimal health. By recognizing that our bodies contain and reflect the natural energies of the universe we can live a life in harmony with our environment.