Understanding Chinese Medicine
What is it?
Chinese medicine is a complete system of medicine with its own forms of diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and therapies. Chinese medicine views the body as an energetic system in dynamic balance. Qi, which can be translated as energy or life force, flows in a regular pattern through a system of channels - or meridians - to all parts of the body.
When the flow of Qi is unimpeded there is harmony, balance, and good health. When there are Qi blockages, too much or too little qi, there is an imbalance which can lead to disharmony and disease.
Chinese medicine helps restore the body to balance and works on an energetic level to affect all aspects of a person: mind/body/spirit. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it can be used to correct imbalances that have become illness and pain, or even correct imbalances prior to the appearance of symptoms, preventing disease.
Chinese medicine treatments address imbalances using food therapy/diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies, Chinese exercise, and meditation along with Western therapies. Chinese medicine is the longest existing continuous medical system practiced in the world, with over 3000 years of history.
Chinese Medicine Philosophy
The primary goal of Chinese traditional medicine is to create wholeness and harmony within a person, allowing the mind/body/spirit to heal itself. Chinese philosophy states that there are two polar principles of life, yin and yang, and that are dialectically opposed to each other. Imbalances of yin and yang within an individual may be reflected as illness, because the body is considered a microcosm of the world.
Chinese traditional medicine defines the physiological components of illness using the concepts Qi (Vital Energy), xue (Blood), jin-ye (Body Fluids), jing (Essence), and shen (Spirit), as well as Organ Systems. Organ Systems are domains within the body that govern particular body tissues, emotional states and activities.
For example, as is the Western kidneys, the Kidney System manages fluid metabolism. In Chinese medicine, the Kidney System is also responsible for reproduction, growth and regeneration. The bones, inner ear, marrow, teeth, and lumbar area are all part of the Kidney System. Frequent urination, low back pain, and the emotional state of fear may be associated with the Kidney System.
Each Organ System has functions that are unique.
Chinese traditional medicine theory postulates that it is the internal ability of the body to remain strong that is the key to health. In this theory, people are born with a certain amount of Original Qi, which is easily depleted as energy is used by the body and not replaced. It is not easy to increase the Original Qi, and a person must work hard during life just to retain it. Chinese exercise programs - along with proper eating and sleeping habits - are highly recommended for maintaining Original Qi . According to Chinese medical philosophy, if a person consistently lacks sleep, lacks proper nutrition, abuses drugs or alcohol, or has excessive or unsafe sex, they become deficient in Qi and other substances. When weakened, the person is more susceptible to infection by harmful external pathogens.
Roots of Disharmony:
Causes of Disease in Chinese Medicine
Ancient Chinese Medicine does not talk about viruses or bacteria as triggers of disease or disorders. Instead, it talks about influences, which cause disharmony in yin/yang, the Essential Substances, the Organ Systems, and the Channels.
There are several categories of influences that produce disharmony: The Six Pernicious Influences and the Seven Emotions.
The Six Pernicious Influences - Heat, Cold, Wind, Dampness, Dryness and Summer Heat - are External climatic forces that can invade the body and create disharmony in the mind/body/spirit. For example, if you are exposed to excess Heat or Cold or Wind for a long time, or if you are exposed to such Influences when your body is already weak, you may develop an illness. This illness, triggered by External Influences, can migrate inward and become more serious - as a slight cold may become pneumonia. This happens when the External Pernicious Influences overpower the body's natural protection against disease.
1. Cold When hypothermia hits a skier or a mountain climber, muscle control fades, motion becomes slow and awkward, fatigue sets in, the body shuts down. That's the same effect that the Cold Pernicious Influence has - it saps the body's energy and makes movements cumbersome. The tongue becomes pale; the pulse is slow. A person may develop a fear of cold and feel like sleeping in a curled up position. Cold is yin and when it invades the body it chills all or part of it. If there's pain, it's eased by warmth.
Cold attacks the body, acute illness may develop, along with chills, fever and
body aches. When the External C old moves inward and becomes an Interior disharmony
it is associated with a chronic condition that produces a pale face, lethargy
an d grogginess, a craving for heat and sleeping for longer than usual periods
2. Heat disorders feel like you've been playing tennis for two hours in the blazing sun. You're weary and at the same time, strangely cranked up. You can't stop talking about the game, but your words stick in your mouth. You don't feel like yourself again until you cool down and quench your thirst.
disorders cause overactive yang functions or insufficient yin functions. They
are generally associated with bodily heat, a red face, hyperactivity and talkativeness,
fever, and thirst for cold liquids and a rapid pulse. Symptoms include carbuncles
and boils, dry mouth and thirst. Confused speech and delirium arise when Heat
attacks the Shen.
3. Dampness: Think about what happens to your backyard when it rains for two days - it becomes soggy and water collects in stagnant pools. That is how Dampness affects the body. Damp pain is heavy and expansive. Dampness blocks the flow of life energy and causes a stuffy chest and abdomen. When External Dampness invades, it enters the Channels and causes stiff joints and heavy limbs. When Dampness invades the Spleen, it can cause upset stomach, nausea, a lack of appetite, a swollen abdomen and diarrhea. Interior Dampness - caused by either the penetration of External Dampness to the Interior or by a breakdown in the Spleen's transformation of fluids - is associated with mucous, which in Chinese medicine is more than simply bodily secretions. It is produced when the Spleen or Kidney is beset with disharmony and can cause obstructions and produce tumors, coughing, and if it invades the Shen, can lead to erratic behavior and insanity. Once Dampness has taken root, it is hard to displace.
4. Dryness is a frequent partner with Heat; just think about the cracked bottom of a dried up riverbed. But where Heat creates redness and warmth, Dryness creates evaporation and dehydration. External Dryness invading the body may create respiratory problems such as asthmatic breathing and a dry cough, acute pain and fever.
5. Summer Heat feels like the humid, oppressive weather that creates the Dog Days of August. It attacks the body after exposure to extreme heat and causes a sudden high fever and total lethargy. It is always an External influence and often arises along with Dampness.
6. Wind animates the body, stirring it from repose into motion just as wind moves the leaves of a tree. When Wind enters the body, it is usually joined to another influence such as Cold. If the body is infiltrated by Wind, the first symptoms usually appear on the skin, in the lungs, or on the face. Tics, twitches, fear of drafts, headaches and a stuffed-up nose are symptoms. When External Wind invades the body more deeply, it can cause seizures, ringing in the ears and dizziness.
Therapeutic Modalities Used in
Chinese Traditional Medicine
The various therapeutic modalities of Chinese traditional medicine include dietary therapy; massage therapy, heat therapies, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and herbal medicine. Heat therapies include the use of moxibustion, which is the burning of the common herb mugwort over certain areas of the body to stimulate or warm these areas. Exercise therapy ranges from martial arts to more subtle forms of movement such as t'ai chi and qi gong. Acupuncture, perhaps the most well known form of Chinese traditional medicine in the United States, is the art of inserting fine sterile metal filiform needles into certain points in order to control the flow of energy in the meridians.
TCM Offers a Different Way to Diagnose Your Health
In Chinese Medicine texts, there is no discussion of diseases or disorders as we know them in the West: If you go to see an herbalist, acupuncturist or Chinese medicine doctor because you are suffering from chronic migraine, the practitioner may diagnosis you as having Liver Qi Stagnation, Liver Heat, Dampness, Qi and Blood Deficiency or Excess Yang, depending on the signs and symptoms that accompany your headache. If you have nausea, gas and bloating you may be diagnosed with Deficient Spleen System Qi .
What Does It Mean?
The practitioner describes the disharmonies in terms of the patterns they manifest. These are known as the Eight Fundamental Patterns: Interior, Exterior; Heat, Cold; Excess, Deficiency; Yin, Yang. These terms are used to describe the way that disharmony is created in the mind/body/spirit.
Interior and Exterior patterns tell the practitioner where in the body the disease resides.
" Interior patterns of disharmony are indicated if the disharmony is chronic, produces changes in urine and stool, if there is discomfort or pain in the torso and no aversion to cold or wind.
" Exterior patterns of disharmony often come on suddenly and are acute. Common signs include chills, fever, a dislike of cold and an achy feeling overall.
" Heat and Cold describe the activity of the body and the nature of the disease. Cold patterns are caused by Deficient Yang or an External Pernicious Cold Influence. With Cold everything slows down, a person becomes withdrawn and sleeps in a curled up position. Pain is relieved by warmth, bodily secretions are thin and clear and there is a desire for warm liquids.
" Heat patterns are caused by invasion of External Pernicious Heat Influence, the depletion of Yin substances and Excess Yang. With Heat, the body's processes speed up and a person may talk excessively, have a red face and hot body and prefer cold beverages; secretions become thick, putrid and dark.
" Deficiency and Excess express the impact of the disharmony on the body's resistance to disease (Normal Qi ). With Deficiency there is underactivity in the Organ System(s), weakness and tentative movement, a pale or ashen face, sweating, incontinence and shallow breathing and pain that is relieved by pressure.
" Excess is associated with overactivity of bodily functions; heavy, forceful movements; a loud, full voice; heavy breathing; pain increased by pressure.
" Yin and Yang encompass the other six Fundamental Patterns. Yin encompasses Interior, Cold and Deficient; Yang encompasses Exterior, Heat and Excess.
Deficient Spleen System Qi
The common symptoms are loose stools, poor appetite, abdominal distention and pain, pale complexion, fatigue and lethargy, weight gain due to fluid retention, edema, shortness of breath and a pale bright face. A subset of Deficient Spleen Qi is Sinking Spleen System Qi, characterized by muscular weakness and prolapsed organs, particularly of the uterus, bladder and rectum. Spleen System Not Able to Govern the Xue (blood), another subset of Deficient Spleen Qi, is associated with Xue circulating outside its proper pathways. The symptoms are chronic bleeding such as bloody stools, nosebleeds, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, excessive menstrual bleeding, non-menstrual uterine bleeding, easy bruising and purpura (purple spotting indicative of bleeding beneath the skin).
Chinese traditional medicine includes acupuncture as one of its most commonly used therapies. Acupuncture is the art of inserting fine sterile metal needles into certain body or ear points to readjust the body's Qi (vital energy) in order to allow the body to heal itself.
After a Chinese traditional medicine diagnosis is given for a client, an acupuncture treatment plan is developed considering the overall nature of the disease, the individual presenting complaints, as well as any underlying constitutional Chinese traditional medicine patterns of illness. On a symptomatic level, acupuncture treatment may address the digestive functions, appetite, energy level, stress/anxiety/depression, pain associated with organic illness, and other complications.
Acupuncture is relatively painless,
often accompanied with a heavy sensation, warmth, or movement of energy at the
point of insertion or along the energy channels. Acupuncture relieves pain and
rebalances energy to help heal symptoms.
Acupuncture is used extensively at Chicken Soup Chinese Medicine clinic for many issues including as part of chronic hepatitis protocols, to decrease nausea associated with pregnancy or chemotherapy, to work with mental issues such as depression and anxiety, and help to relieve pain from both musculoskeletal and organic problems.
Chinese herbal medicine works through the physiological action of the herbs, and pays special attention to the powers unleashed through combinations of herbs. For example, a Chinese herbalist will choose an herb for a specific effect and complement it with another herb that will increase that beneficial effect. However, sometimes along with the positive effects an herb may possess qualities that are not suitable for an individual because of his or her unique constitution. Then the herbalist must know what other herbs to add to the mixture to eliminate that undesired action. An herb formula is built to suit the individual diagnoses of each person - there is never one pat prescription for everyone who has the same symptoms. A compound of three or four or more herbs may be designed to address the person's particular needs.
In Chinese medicine, we do not usually treat specific symptoms with Chinese herbs; instead we treat the symptom complex known as the syndrome. Every individual is different, so even when we use a general herbal combination we can add herbs to individualize the formula.
Chinese herbalists know that there are specific rules for herb combining - some herbs have potentiated effects when combined with certain other herbs. Some herbs are traditionally contraindicated for use in the same formula with other herbs because of negative or toxic effects. Combining Chinese herbs is an art. Two or more herbs may be combined to form an herbal prescription. Some contain only one herb and often we find up to twelve or fifteen herbs in a formula, depending on the condition of the person and the actions of the herbs needed. Medicinal substances are combined in order to enhance the effectiveness of individual herbs within the formulas, to minimize unwanted effects, or to deal with complex situations, and to alter the actions of the substances.
There are many ways to ingest or use Chinese herbal formulas. Formulas may be taken in bulk tea that has been cooked, in liquid extract form in hot water, in powder extract form in pills or hot water, in pills, or even used topically in teas, plasters, liniments as well as many other forms.
In my clinic I use many traditional formulas that have been made into herb pills, often called patent formulas. Various Chinese herb companies produce pills as well as extracts and powders of traditional Chinese formulas. Some companies also produce modern Chinese herbal formulas as well as variations of Chinese traditional formulas for a more Western constitution.
Close supervision is necessary when any type of medication is ingested. This includes Chinese herbal formulas. A person receiving Chinese herbs should be under the care of a competent licensed practitioner who can differentiate any possible side effects of herbs from organic conditions. Receiving herbs from unlicensed or untrained personnel, such as in health food stores, is not good practice.
Side effects are possible with herbal formulas. The most common problem is that persons may have some digestive difficulties immediately upon beginning herbal intake that can last for a few days. This can include diarrhea and/or constipation. This is usually due to the sudden addition of increased fiber in the diet, particularly for those unused to much fiber. If this lasts more than a few days or is severe, several measures are taken to ameliorate the effects. Side effects can generally be controlled through varying the time of ingestion or through altering the dosage. Sometimes we need to change the formulas or give a digestive formula in conjunction.
In Chinese medicine, food therapy and diet are the first treatments given to people who are trying to stay well, remain in balance, or who are suffering from illness. There are many ways in which we eat that can either keep us well or can make us sick.
In Chinese thought, we must keep the digestion healthy or we easily become ill. Food intake is very important to healthy digestion and assimilation of food. In Chinese medicine, our understanding is that the Spleen and Stomach are the organs of digestion and assimilation, the Stomach brings food energy into the body and the Spleen distributes it. Therefore, anything that disrupts the function of the Spleen/Stomach or the digestion is injurious to the body's energy as a whole.
Some concepts of Chinese medicine that are most important for digestion and Spleen/Stomach function are:
1. Eating at regular times
2. Eating cooked foods - this is due to the fact that it takes much more energy of the body to warm the Stomach to digest foods. Cold and raw foods are injurious to the Spleen and Stomach energy according to the traditional concepts, and should be eaten sparingly.
3. Eating foods that are in season and grown as close to home as possible. There is more Qi available from these foods, as they are fresher and have more food energy.
4. Herbs can be added to foods to increase their vitality and for certain conditions.
A basic food used for healing in Chinese medicine is rice along with other grains. Congee or porridge is a very therapeutic food and is often used traditionally during chronic weakness diseases and during convalescence from illnesses. There are many varieties suitable for different conditions but it is usually made from rice. Your Chinese medicine practitioner can give you recipes that are specific for your situation.
THE HEALING TOUCH: Qi Gong Massage and Other Forms of Body Therapy
Massage, whether done solo, with a partner or by a professional massage therapist, offers the energy of acupuncture, the serenity of meditation and the spiritual refreshment that comes through being touched. Massage can be an important part of your every day health care routine.
There are many types of Asian massage and acupressure such as Chinese Qi Gong massage, Jin Shin Do, Japanese Shiatsu, and other Asian acupressure forms. Western reflexology techniques are very popular in the United States and Europe and China today. There are many other forms of massage, each valuable for restoring harmony: Swedish deep muscle massage is done with long, smooth motions and is effective for muscle aches, stiffness, lower back pain and stress reduction; Cranio-Sacral bodywork manipulates the pulses, flow of blood and the bones of the skull with micro-movements. It provides deep calming of the spirit and the body, eases joint pain and muscle tension, improves concentration and opens up the Channels; Trager massage works on the nervous system, using gentle shaking and rocking to stimulate energy and promote relaxation and pain relief; Esalen massage, like Swedish, is a long stroke massage that works on muscles and joints to ease tension; Rolfing works on tissue realignment on a deep level. When it come time to choose one of these forms, or any other type, select what you find most pleasurable and effective.
Qi Gong Massage is an extension of Qi Gong exercise/meditation. Among the more skilled masters of the art, self-massage can be done with the mind, moving Qi and Xue through the Channels, relaxing muscles, massaging Organ Systems mentally. For the rest of us, manual Qi Gong massage - done on ourselves or with a partner or practitioner - is an important part of any preventive health care program, since regular massage helps nourish the mind/body/spirit and maintains harmony in all systems.
Exercise & Meditation:
Chinese medicine practitioners often recommend medical Qi Gong, a form of Chinese healing exercises. At Quan Yin Healing Arts Center in San Francisco, Qi Gong master Larry Wong has been teaching classes for people with hepatitis C, AIDS, and cancer for many years.
The energy conserving, Qi -channeling, practice of Qi Gong is perfectly designed to keep you in shape without causing stress and exhaustion.
Chronic illness can make you feel like you body is beyond your control: appropriate exercise and meditation can help you reassert your ability to shape the quality of your life and the vitality of your mind/body/spirit. The specific benefits include:
" Control cholesterol levels and reduce fat in body
" Keep blood pressure low
" Strengthen cardiovascular system
" Reduce stress
" Reduce depression
" Maintain muscle mass
" Reinforce abstinence/decreasing use from alcohol and drugs
Qi Gong is the traditional Chinese discipline that focuses on breathing and movement of Qi to increase physical harmony and strength and establish spiritual/emotional peace. There are hundreds of different schools of practice, some can be very vigorous - the martial arts are forms of Qi Gong - others are extremely gentle.
relaxed breathing in the foundation of all Qi Gong movements. For your breath
carries with it the healing powers of well-harmonized Qi and Xue."
Larry Wong has designed a series of Qi Gong exercises that are laid out in The Chinese Way to Healing, The HIV Wellness Sourcebook and The Hepatitis C Help Book. He recommends the following simple exercise for However, the best way to learn Qi Gong is to find a teacher in your area whenever possible, you may also want to check out videos and other books that focus on medical Qi Gong.
The Circle of Qi
This exercise is part of a routine to help circulate Qi throughout the body, replenish depleted Qi and calm the Shen.
1. Sit on the floor with legs crossed in lotus or cross-legged style. This is important so that Qi does not stagnate in the lower body, but follows the breathing path through the torso and the head.
2. Inhale to a count of four to eight, depending on what you are comfortable with.
3. For Buddha's Breath, inhale, extending your belly as you fill it up with air from the bottom of your lungs upward; exhale by pushing the air out from the bottom of your lungs first, contracting the lower rib cage and abdominal muscles, then the upper torso.
4. For Taoist's Breath, inhale, contracting your abdomen, exhale letting your abdomen relax outward. You may practice these breathing techniques on alternate days.
5. As you inhale imagine the air - and your Qi - flowing evenly along the pathways of the Channels.
6. Become aware of the air as it enters through your nostrils and moves down the center of your chest to a spot in your abdomen about 1 to 2 inches below the navel. This is the dan-tien. (Women should not concentrate on it during their periods. Concentrate on the solar plexus, instead.)
7. Now breath out slowly and evenly, releasing the breath from the abdomen, up through the lungs and out your slightly open mouth.
8. As you exhale image that the Qi which was at the dan-tien is moving down through your pelvis, through your crotch and then up your tailbone to your lower back.
9. Keep your exhaling breath in a slow, steady, smooth stream passing gently over your lips.
10. Now as you inhale again, follow the Qi as it moves up along your back to your shoulders.
11. Exhale and move the Qi up the back of the head, over the top of your head, down your forehead, returning to the nose.
12. At first it may be difficult to follow the flow of Qi through its cycle. Be patient and keep your breathing calm and your mind relaxed while focusing on your inhale and exhale.