Chinese Medicine is simple; it began with observing nature and then taking these observations and applying them to the human body. This began with the concept of yin and yang. Anything in relation to anything else could either be described as being yin or yang: light or heavy, dark or light, male or female, active or passive. This meant that all things in nature were necessary to maintain balance and neither yin nor yang was more powerful. Instead, they were constantly becoming one another. Hence the yin yang symbol of equal halves of a circle with full smaller circles of opposite color in side.
The most common shape in nature is a circle, the cells of your body are circles and healthy DNA spins clockwise. The ancient Chinese also used circles to explain balance. The element circle looks like this: Water grows wood, wood grows fire, fire makes ashes or earth, inside of the earth is metal, and water condenses on metal. The Chinese applied this cycle and these elements to what they believed to be the organs of the body. Wood is the liver and gall bladder. Fire is heart and small intestine. Earth is spleen and stomach. Metal is lung and large intestine. Water is urinary bladder and kidney. In this way, the body was seen as being supported by each organ. Blood and energy, or qi, flowed through the body like water. When one organ became unbalanced every other organ was affected. When the smooth flowing circulation got blocked somewhere in the body from an imbalance, disease festered like a pond of still water growing full of sludge.
In Chinese Medicine there are no divisions of the body like in Western Medicine. Instead, the whole body is accessed to understand how an imbalance is affecting the body, mind and spirit. This is achieved through a series of questions and on examination of the tongue and pulses. The greatest diagnostic tool of Chinese Medicine is still observation. The tongue is a map and mirror to the internal body. The tip of the tongue represents the heart and just behind the lungs. The center of the tongue reflects the spleen and the stomach. The sides mirror the liver and gall bladder. The back of the tongue shows the kidneys and urinary bladder. The size, shape, color and coat tell the story of how the internal organs are functioning. Three pulses are felt on both wrists to reflect again the internal organs. The left radial pulse represents the heart, liver and kidney yin and the right radial pulse represents the lung, spleen and kidney yang. The pulse is felt for its depth, speed, and rate. Acupuncturists use descriptive words like wiry, thready, soggy, slippery or knotted when assessing the pulses.
Based on the observations of the tongue, pulse and assessment of questions an Acupuncturist will devise a treatment plan that might include acupuncture, moxabustion and herbal remedies. Through this observation “western diseases” are not being treated, instead, the body is being brought back to balance. Chinese Medicine looks at a “symptom” like a branch of a tree, and looks deeper to find the root cause. In this way, the “symptom” is addressed, as well as, what caused the symptom in the first place. The advantages of this philosophy are the “side effects.” For example, a patient being treated for back pain might also report higher energy levels, better sleep, reduction in hot flashes or heart burn, a more regular and less painful menstrual cycle and/or improved emotional wellbeing. This means that Chinese Medicine can treat virtually any condition aiding in bringing the body back to harmony. While this is true, Chinese Medicine’s true genius is preventative. Ancient Chinese doctors were responsible for keeping the community healthy; it was the doctors who had to pay if a patient was sick.
Chinese Medicine is by no means a quick fix; however it is an opportunity to impact not only one’s body, but lifestyle as well. Massage Therapy (tui na), Exercise, Meditation, Feng Shui, and Nutrition are also key components of this system that can contribute lasting harmony. Acupuncturists recommend receiving quarterly treatments as a “tune up” when the energy of the Earth is changing to maintain wellness.
Sarah Zender, LAc. LMT. is a licensed and nationally certified Massage Therapist, licensed Acupuncturist in the state of Illinois and a certified yoga teacher. Sarah also holds an advanced certificate in Acupuncture from the Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Sarah teaches at ASIS Massage School.