Why do the Chinese live so long? What are these foreign concepts of ‘wind attacking’ or sayings like ‘keep your kidneys warm’. Why is it so difficult to find a salad in china and why is an angry person said to be very 'fiery'? These are all concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and engrained at a practical level into Chinese culture.
Through this blog series, I will begin from what is taught in Chinese culture at a young age. I will bring light to Chinese medical theory and elaborate on how YOU can maintain health by incorporating these concepts and practices into your everyday life. First we will learn the basic concepts. Later we will talk about food, constitutions, exercises and practices at a more practical level.
To understand the most basic concept of TCM, all one must do is look at a park in china. There, you will see people waving their arms in the air, balancing on one foot, or perhaps performing what seems like some kind of silent rhythmical gymnastic routine. This is called ‘Tai Chi’. Tai chi believes in the movement of ‘qi’ or energy around the body to maintain health. In TCM if a blockage of Qi occurs in the body disease will result. The aim of both acupuncture and herbal therapy is to remove this blockage. More importantly however, is how to PREVENT this blockage.
THE FIRST CONCEPT: MOVEMENT OF QI
In TCM ‘Qi’ or ‘energy’ moves around via the bodies ‘meridians’. In western medicine this idea may be compared to the circulation of blood through blood vessels or the movement of action potentials through nerves. If blockage results disease will occur, for example varicose veins are a result of the blockage in blood flow, when nerves fail to communicate a stroke may result.
A simple analogy to compare TCM and Western Medicine understanding is the familiar concept of a phone. Western medicine is like a landline phone. It is linked by wires, or, in the case of the body, nerves and blood vessels. This can be called the ‘hard circuit way’ Its links and workings are seen and understood physically and in anatomical terms.
TCM understanding is the ‘soft way’. It is like a mobile phone. In this way, signals are sent to different parts of the world, yet no physical and visual wires are involved. This is similar to the way acupuncture works in the body. It is harder to see meridians compared to vessels and nerves, yet each point is linked to another area of the body and can cause physiological reactions.
It is interesting to note that the muscle gastrocnemius (calf muscle) contains the prefix ‘gastro’ which in Latin pertains to stomach. In TCM, acupuncture points on this muscle can be used to treat stomach problems. This is just one example of one part of the body being linking with another. It seems that not just in Ancient China were societies aware of these links in the body.
Different concepts and structures can lead to similar results. In this case, wires or no wires, mobile or landline, a phone call can still be made. Western medicine and Chinese medicine have different structures yet can lead to similar results.
The formula for life from both western and eastern understandings is based on movement, change and transformation of energy (in physics) or ‘qi’ in TCM.
From the Chinese park with the practice of tai chi, the growth of the grass and trees, the flow of the stream and the lifecycle of the duckling from baby to adult, it is seen life revolves around movement and if this flow is lost, disharmony results. If a stream meets a boulder, its path will be changed, if a telegraph pole is knocked down, your lights will go out. If a phone line is cut, you cannot make a call.
Without the fundamental principle of movement and energy, balance is lost.