What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)? You might think it is easy to answer: the medicine is from China. Yes, you are partially right. However, Traditional Chinese Medicine is a very complicated medicine system that views the human body from a different perspective than the principles of Western medicine.

TCM believes in a different philosophy and fundament from traditional Western medicine. TCM is characterized by a wide range of medicine practices developed in China and is based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of acupuncture; herbal medicine; TuiNa (Chinese Massage); mind, body, and breaching exercise (Qigong); and dietary therapy. TCM is widely used in China, Asia, and even the whole world. TCM views the human body as not only based on anatomical structures but also mainly concerned with the identification of body organ systems as functional entities which regulate blood circulation, digestion, breathing, emotion, urination, aging, etc. While health is the harmonious interaction between these entities and the outside environment, disease happens when the interaction becomes disharmonious. Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis focuses on tracing symptoms to patterns of an underlying disharmony by analyzing the pulse; inspecting the tongue, skin, eyes, nails, and hair; looking at the eating and sleeping habits of the patient; and checking the emotional balance as well as many other things.

Chinese Medicine philosophy is based on YinYang (阴阳), Five Elements or Five phases (五行), Qi (气),  Xue (血), Jinye (津液), Zhang-Fu (脏腑), and Jinluo or meridians (经络). Much of holistic medicine now encompasses a  broad range of these common concepts.

Traditional Chinese Medicine’s concept of disease is a disharmony (or imbalance) in the functions or interactions of yin, yang, qi, xuĕ, zàng-fǔ, meridians, etc. and of the interaction between the human body and the environment. In order to determine a person’s  bodily imbalance, practitioners will examine the pulse; look at the color, texture, and shape of the tongue; examine the smell of the breath; and evaluate the quality of breathing, the sound of the voice, the complexion, etc. Therapy is then adjusted to which “pattern of disharmony” is identified; this is the most difficult aspect of practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine.

According to Chinese Medicine, how do humans become ill? The answer is that every human being is eventually exposed to the Six Excesses (六淫) or  Six Pathogenic Factors: 1. Wind (风), 2. Cold (寒) , 3. Summerheat (暑), 4. Dampness (湿), 5. Dryness (燥), 6. Fire/Heat (火). One or a combination of these “pathogens” (factors) can cause disease. These “pathogens” can also transform from one into another in the human body. Besides the  Six Pathogenic Factors, Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that seven emotions, an irregular diet or weakness due to old age, also play an important role in human disease. The seven emotions include 1. Joy (喜)2. anger (怒), 3. worry (忧), 4.thinking (思), 5. sadness (悲), 6. fear (恐), 7.scare(惊). Viewing the characteristic of the whole body and bio – psycho – social perspective in terms of traditional Chinese medicine entails advantages to manage the functional somatic syndrome.

After diagnosing the cause of disease, the Chinese medicine practitioner will then choose to use acupuncture, Moxibustion, Chinese herb, etc. to treat the cause and symptoms in order to dismiss the disharmony of the body. The practitioner can use one, two, or three combined techniques to help balance the patient’s bodily interactions.

The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (黄帝内经) is the oldest Chinese Medicine text book. It was compiled around the first century BCE and written in the form of dialogues between the legendary emperor (the ancestor of Chinese people) and his ministers. It explained the relationships between humans, the environment, and the cosmos on the contents of the body, human vitality and pathology, symptoms of illness, and making diagnostic and therapeutic decisions in light of all these factors. This book is the holy grail of Chinese medicine and can be considered the Bible of Chinese medicine. It is commonly believed that if you have not read this book, then you are not a real TCM practitioner.
©Dr.Li Zhang

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