What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
The origins of Chinese Medicine are impossible to fathom as it is the collected wisdom of thousands of years and many cultures but the foundation of the philosophy and treatment methods was first written down in the “ Huang Ti Nei Jing”, ( “The Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine” ) about 3000 years ago. This book is in two parts, “Su Wen”, a conversation between the Yellow Emperor and his physician Ch’i Pai and the second text the “Ling shu” [Spiritual Pivot], which discusses Acupuncture therapy in great detail. The “ Su Wen” is the more influential text and develops a theory of “man” in health and disease and the theory of medicine. This theory presents “man” as a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of the Universe. This holistic naturalist philosophy was not unique to Chinese Medicine but was accepted by Ayurevedic, Greek, Roman and Moslem scholars who developed their own medical systems. Another common similarity is that all their medical philosophies were based on the concept of humors (elements or phases in Chinese theory) this was the dominant medical philosophy in much of the world until bacterial theory took over at the beginning of the 20th century. Even well known characters such as Hippocrates and Florence Nightingale practiced this system of medicine.
The central philosophy in Chinese medicine is of Yin and Yang which represent two opposite but complementary qualities and it is the “ Doctor’s “ job to discover the imbalance and restore harmony between them in Mind, Body and Spirit..
This differs in an important way from the foundation of Western Philosophy which is the opposition of contraries. Aristotelian logic which has been the basis for western thought for the last 2000 years states that A can not be B whereas the Chinese understanding embraces the concept that all things are relative so A can be A or non A or B depending on its relationship with other factors. This is a very similar concept to that of Quantum Physics which has discovered that energy can exist in two, or more, different states at the same time.
The practice of Chinese medicine has developed considerably since its foundation, as has the technology, but all the texts and techniques which have come since can be seen as footnotes or expansions of the concepts in the original text.
The Practice of Chinese Medicine
Many people have some idea about Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine and Massage and though these methods exist outside Chinese Medicine the Chinese approach to their use is unique. Even the National Health Service in the UK accepts a form of ( Medical )Acupuncture as being effective in the treatment of pain conditions but this is not Chinese Medicine Acupuncture.
The difference is in syndrome differentiation which comes from an in depth understanding of the complexities of the human condition in health and disharmony based on the diagnostic philosophy of Chinese Medicine.
I previously mentioned the philosophy of Yin and Yang as being the basis of our understanding of Harmony and Disharmony but this is simplistic and would only give a general understanding of a condition. Another unique concept which is central to the understanding of Oriental Medicine is Qi (Chi ) which is often translated as life energy. Qi could more accurately be described as the common force behind all the different energies of the Universe but even this is simplistic. “Qi is the material substratum of the Universe and is also the material and spiritual substratum of human life” Just to give you some idea of its far reaching complexity within the human body there are six forms of Qi which each have specific functions; Original ( Yuan) Qi, Nutrient
( Ying ) Qi, Gathering ( Zong ) Qi, Defensive ( Wei ) Qi, Upright ( Zheng ) Qi and Lifting ( Zhong ) Qi and each organ also has its own Qi. These are however merely manifestations of the one substance in different stages and degrees of materialisation.
The study of Qi is of particular importance in the syndrome diagnosis of Chinese Medicine as it is the motivating force behind the movement of blood through the vessels and the movement of energy through the meridians.
During the development of Chinese Medicine through the millennia other more specific diagnostic philosophies developed out of this basic understanding. One major system used in both diagnosis and treatment is the Five Element Theory. This theory was created to help understand the complex relationship between the organs and their energy and has a number of different interpretations. Each element; Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth is assigned to a different organ pairing and represents the concept of energy and function of that organ in relation to the other organs. The ( Zhang ) Yin organs are Lungs, Kidneys, Liver, Heart and Spleen respectively and they each have a paired Yang organ.