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Comparing TCM and Ayurveda | World Vitae

There are some similarities, but also a lot of differences between traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and India’s Ayurveda. For simplicity’s sake, this is merely a very surface-level overview of some commonalities and distinctions between the two health traditions.  The idea behind this post to help you, who may be familiar with one but not the other, better understand both, and also assess which might be the better or more relevant health approach for you.

Basic Concepts

  • Both understand 5 Elements, but
    • TCM: metal, wood, water, fire, earth
    • Ayurveda: ether, air, water, fire, earth
  • Tastes, as of materia medica and foods
    • TCM, 5 tastes: Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent
    • Ayurveda, 6 tastes (rasa): Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent
  • Effective temperature, as of materia medica and foods
    • TCM (nature): hot, warm, neutral, cool, cold; these are fixed corresponding to taste and effect on the body.
    • Ayurveda (potency – veerya): warm or cool; can change according to mixing, mouth feeling versus stomach feeling, does not have have fixed correspondence to taste or effect on body. Going further, Ayurveda also has the concept of vipaka or post-digestive effect and prabhava or specific unexplainable action (both of which would merit a separate post).
  • Both assign and assess people according to constitution, but Ayurveda gives far greater weight to this concept.
  • Both have concept of life essence or immunity that sustains life, in TCM known as congenital essence (原气or 精气) and in Ayurveda as Ojus.
  • Both understand channels exist within the body and aid in flow of energy, or else become blocked and inhibit normal flow.

Diagnoses

  • Tongue – Both, but TCM gives greater emphasis and assesses a wider range of manifestations on the tongue.
  • Pulse – Both, but finger placement, interpretation, and understanding of pulse movements are different: Ayurveda primarily uses for constitution assessment and which dosha may be vitiating, while TCM uses it for very time-sensitive diagnosis.
  • Looking – Both.
  • Asking – Both.
  • Use of modern technology (MRI, blood or urine tests, etc) – Far more commonly used in Ayurveda than TCM.

Diet/Nutrition

  • Both consider dietary therapy to be the first method of healing, but often assume this is merely at-home self-remedy.
  • Ayurveda takes into greater consideration dietary patterns than TCM for diagnosis and treatment, generally speaking.
  • Ayurveda advises fasting and other dietary regimens for seasonal, health-keeping, and post-treatment prescriptions; this is given less emphasis in TCM.
  • Ayurveda has a heavy use of dairy, ghee (oil), and variety of spices, unlike TCM which tends to focus more on fruits, greens, and only 1-2 spices (namely ginger).  This is a reflection of the native agriculture in each health system’s homeland.

Treatments – Internal

  • Ayurveda uses internal oleation (consumption of large quantities of ghee). Not in TCM.
  • TCM herbs are always processed and then converted into decoctions, pastes, or patent medicines.
  • Ayurveda may use fresh herbs, simple dried, processed, or other methods before converting them into powders, ingestible oils/ghee, decoctions, pastes, fermented preparations, or patent medicines.
  • Both use many parts of plants and animals, including leaves, flowers, bark, roots, shells, bone, venom, etc, as well as minerals and stones.
  • I will not comment further on the materia medica as I’m not familiar with the extent of Ayurveda’s pharmacopoeia.

Treatments – External

  • Both use vital points (points of greater energy or life essence or, in TCM, Qi concentration) in treatment, and both apply acupressure (acupuncture) on the points that they recognize as important.
  • Both use massage, but unlike in TCM’s tuina, medicated oils are key to Ayurvedic massage’s success.
  • Both have a medicated paste or plaster that can be applied, typically on arthritic or otherwise painful joints.
  • Differing treatment modalities:
    • TCM: acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, guasha, auricular acupuncture with seeds
    • Ayurveda: pouring of medicated oil, fermented liquid, or medicated buttermilk over the body or head; retaining of medicated oil or ghee on head, eyes, ears, nose, or local area; medicated smoking; sweating; etc.

And I could go on and on, but there is a point beyond which they can’t be compared. Both have long histories and their unique strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly, are highly regarded and effective approaches for health.

If anything is unclear or you want to add something, feel free to comment below.

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