Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on having a healthy flow of energy throughout the body. Priya Kulasagaran summarises this philosophy of how it works.
Originating from Taoist beliefs established over thousands of years ago, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) generally a set of practices that the human body is connected to the environment around it.
Practitioners of TCM see healthcare as a holistic process, aiming to remedy the ‘disharmony’ within a patient in their quest to treat a disease.
The central tenant of TCM is the belief of qi, or life energy, which is believed to flow throughout the body via ‘meridians’.
These meridians are based on major veins and arteries, and regulating the flow of one’s qi is seen as integral to maintain good health.
Adding to this is the role of yin and yang; the Chinese belief of opposing yet interdependent aspects to life.
Yin describes qualities that are dark, passive, feminine, and is often associated with the water and earth elements.
Yang meanwhile, is symbolised with fire and air, and refers to qualities that are bright, active and masculine.
TCM practitioners believe that each organ in the body has both the yin and yang qualities, although some functions may lean more towards one particular aspect.
For example, the heart is considered a yin organ, while the stomach is seen as a yang organ.
While practices such as acupuncture and herbal medicine tend to be the more well-known aspects of TCM, in reality, many practitioners also regularly endorse therapies based on nutrition, exercise and spirituality – the main idea is to treat the patient as a whole rather than just the disease.
Not just needles and herbs
Popular images of TCM is tend to be that of exotic herbal concoctions, or being a human pin-cushion.
However, even with acupuncture, there are actually other variations of this treatment
The underlying philosophy of acupuncture is to stimulate the flow of qi throughout the body, by inserting thin needles at specific points of the body.
But practitioners may also stimulate these acupuncture points by other means; acupressure for instance, simply involves the use of fingers to apply pressure to the appropriate parts of the body.
Meanwhile, cupping utilises cups made of thick glass or plastic to draw the skin up at particular points of the body, through suction.
Aside from realigning the flow of qi, cupping is also said to open up skin pores and create a place for toxins in the body to be released.
A scraping method called gua sha is employed when there is an injury along the acupuncture meridians.
This involves rubbing the skin with the smooth edge of a spoon, and it is said to stimulate healing in areas where there is scarring or poor muscle movement.
Tai chi is also a practice that TCM practitioners encourage patients to take up.
The slow, dance-like body movements of tai chi, a centuries-old practice, have been shown to help with breathing, mental focus and relaxation.
What to expect
Since a TCM practitioner looks at the holistic health of a patient, he or she will take account of the overall aspects of your life, and not just a particular symptom or disease.
Aside from asking a detailed medical history and lifestyle questions, chances are that a practitioner is already making notes from the minute you walk into the room.
These observations include gauging the face, or even body odour, to spot the signs of disease or ailments.
Practitioners also pay special attention to the tongue and pulse; a reading of the latter is also said to be a helpful of indicator of what the diagnosis may be.
These markers also said to inform the practitioner of a patient’s unique characteristics as well as his or her overall constitution.
Aside from recommendations of herbal remedies or advice on diet changes, a practitioner may also employ acupuncture or similar treatment.
The goal is to restore the disharmony in the body by improving the flow of qi, and balancing the yin and yang within.