Back to basics, back to the beginning, with today’s guest post to understand the modern role of Chinese Medicine, along with a few of its fundamentals. 

Dispensing prescriptionsToday, “Chinese medicine” has expanded far beyond just medicine practiced in China. The term “Chinese medicine” or TCM is a description of a philosophy of wellness that has spread across the globe and is being embraced in many countries, both Eastern and Western. The origin for this approach, however, is, as the name suggests, Chinese.

Comparing Chinese with Western Medicine

So what is Chinese medicine? Also referred to as “TCM” or “traditional Chinese medicine”, it’s a way of understanding the body and how to bring the different systems and organs into harmony to achieve greater vitality. There are a number of complex ideas involved that are very different from Western medicine’s understanding. They relate to the movement of energy through the body, blockages and imbalances that then manifest as specific symptoms. In the West, those conditions are diagnosed and named, while in the Chinese view, the diagnosis is less condition dependent.

A simplistic view of Western medicine from a TCM viewpoint might be that Western doctors treat symptoms, while practitioners of Chinese medicine treat the cause. TCM offers a more holistic view of the body, including the ways the different systems are interrelated.

Modernizing Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is more than 5000 years old, and the first written texts dates back to about this time. Today, research and exploration of the science of Chinese remedies is gathering momentum with examining more closely the various combinations of herbs and complementary therapies. Some stand up under scrutiny, while others do not. The use of animal parts, for example, (often from endangered species) has little acceptance. However, many potent herbs are found to have a medicinal benefit. The British Medical Journal, for example, is actively seeking good quality, replicable research into Chinese medicines, though these studies can be hard to come by at times.

Key Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine

Emotion-Organ ConnectionSome of the constructs that make up the platform for diagnosis in the Chinese medicine paradigm include the qualities of herbs and foods, namely the 5 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy); the idea of “Qi” (“Chi”) or life force or vital essence; yin and yang – soft and fluid versus directional and strong, light/dark, feminine/masculine; damp, hot, dry, cold, neutral; excess/deficiency, interior/exterior.

In Chinese medicine, herbs are viewed as having some of the qualities outlined above – such as drying or warming, stimulating or calming – and these are prescribed to balance out the opposite experience, and in so doing bring the body back into balance and alleviate the disease (“dis-ease”).

The role of the Chinese medicine practitioner is to understand the different qualities of herbs, probable triggers for imbalances in the body, and therefore be able to prescribe the right course of action to rebalance the underlying condition. treating diseases with acupunctureA fundamental assumption is that the body will seek to heal itself, if the right conditions are created.

Although herbs are a  widespread way to apply the knowledge of Chinese medicine, other modalities are also used to achieve physical, mental and emotional harmony such as: massage, acupuncture and exercise (Such as Tai Chi).

About the Author: Katherine West is a health freak and freelance writer who in 2003 studied for a Diploma of Nutrition. She is also into yoga and pilates.