A Brief Introduction to TCM
Good afternoon! I would like to begin by explaining a few things that I didn’t cover in the last class. At the conclusion of the class, a number of students handed in questions from the class. I have read through the questions and would like to discuss them together.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), different from Western medicine in concept, is a complete system of providing medical care which has a recorded history dating back over 2,000 years. According to the framework provided by Huang Di Nei Jing (The Classics of Internal Medicine), the laws of nature can be used to explain the inner workings of the body. The human body can be viewed as an organic whole, composed of various organs and functional systems. Your health, like the universe at large, is subject to constant battling between opposing forces, such as heat and cold, joy and sadness. When these forces are in balance, you are healthy; but when they become unbalanced, it manifests itself as too much or too little activity in particular organs of your body. Traditional Chinese Medicine explains this as an imbalance between yin and yang. TCM doctors believe that yin and yang, two interdependent interacting forces, are in the human body. In other words, they are mutually opposing each other and being constrained by the other. The two forces are separate, yet intertwined, a change in one affecting a change in the other, always maintaining a balance in the degree of transformation that occurs between the two. Since disease occurs when the strength of these yin and yang forces become unbalanced, TCM doctors pay particular attention to regulating yin and yang so as to keep the strength in balance.
Traditional Chinese Medicine also has the concept of qi (chee), a substance which travels through the human body along invincible pathways known as meridians. An imbalance between yin and yang can cause a blockage in the flow of your qi, viewed as a vital energy traveling through the meridians. TCM practitioners use a variety of treatments to help unblock the qi passages in an effort to bring your body back into harmony and wellness. These include herbology, acupuncture, moxibustion, Tui Na /massage, diet therapy and therapeutic exercise such as Taiji and Qi Gong. When making a diagnosis, a doctor of TCM is concerned with the whole person. He focuses on physical and psychological characteristics as the key indicators of health and disease. He will ask a series of questions, take your pulses, and check the color and texture of your tongue. His questions will focus on physical symptoms as well as your emotional and mental life. For example, knowing that you are indecisive or have an explosive temper may help him determine what type of gallbladder trouble you're having. In regards to checking your pulse, it may require several readings, once for each internal organ. Finally, he will prescribe a personalized treatment designed to treat the underlying causes of a given disease, one that’s intended to enhance your overall health rather than focus on a particular injury or infection. Any medicine he prescribes is usually a combination of medicinal herbs, wood plants and other ingredients. The mixture is given in order to depress any over-active organs and stimulate weaker ones, thus hoping to correct the imbalance that is causing your troubles.
Chinese herbs are traditionally cooked in an herb pot. The herbs are placed into the pot, and water is added. This is then brewed to make a strong-tasting tea. Nowadays, they may also come in a package containing a dozen bags of the extracted prescription granules that can be steeped. This makes it very convenient to use: Simply place the bags together in a cup and pour in boiling water to make the same kind of strong-tasting tea. The pills and ready-made extracted granules are made in accordance with published medical procedures. A given prescription is a mixture of a variety of ingredients aimed at several symptoms. The extracted prescription granules are selected by means of a doctor’s prescription. A given bag of has only one ingredient. The doctor prescribes a package of different bags based on an individual patient’s symptoms. To fill a given prescription usually requires a dozen bags.
In cases such as muscle pains, your practitioner may determine the cause is from a blockage of the qi pathways. Acupuncture may be chosen as the means to stimulate certain points along your meridians in order to unblock the flow of vital energy through the passageway. Other kinds of treatment include moxibustion (small mounds of burning herbs), suction cups (cupping), and deep tissue massage. In addition to muscle pains, acupuncture can also be used to treat illnesses such as stomach problems, nausea, insomnia and paralysis. Recently, researchers have been investigating Chinese herbs and other TCM techniques for treating conditions ranging from depression to cancer. In addition, there are examples of acupuncture being used successfully as a form of anesthesia for surgery. Those adhering to western medicine believe that perhaps acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins, which are a natural pain-killer.
Some have safety concerns because of the use of needles in acupuncture. Acupuncture needles are quite safe, as long as your practitioner uses either properly sterilized or disposable needles to prevent the spread of infection. If you are taking aspirin or other pain relievers regularly, it’s important to let your acupuncturist know, in that they can exacerbate any minor bruising caused by the use of the needles.
Some students have asked about the safety problem in prescription. A licensed doctor always provides a written prescription, which is given to you and should be presented to him the next time you make a visit. TCM practitioners today are well informed of the current advancement of Traditional Chinese Medicine. They are able to choose wisely to avoid any dangerous problematic herbs. However, before taking a new prescription, it's important to inform your practitioner about any drugs and herbs that you may already be taking. Scientific research conducted in China, Japan, Australia, Europe and North America, is providing further verification of the effectiveness of TCM therapies. The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges the ability of Traditional Chinese Medicine to facilitate healing in many diseases.