Traditional Chinese Medicine: Holistic Concept, Dynamic View and Natural Therapies

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been developing for over two thousand years. Guided by holistic concepts and based on clinical observation and experience, Chinese medical experts, through the ages, have developed a unique system of health care with its own characteristics for the prevention and treatment of disease.

I.  The Holistic ConceptIn TCM, the holistic concept includes integrity of the body and it’s relationship with the natural world.

The body is an organic whole and its functions are interconnected. A meridian system which allows vital energy flow links the body as a whole. Imagine the human body as a city, and its meridians as streets net in the city linking all the organs, joints and muscles together. Consider the blood in the body as a vehicle and the vital energy as the driver. When a street has a traffic jam, the related streets are affected. As with the streets of a city, the meridian transports vital energy to maintain the harmony of physiological activities for all parts of the body. If the energy and blood cannot be transported to a part of the body, that part of the body will not perform normally and you may feel uncomfortable, pain or sickness. In daily life, a small cut could cause a whole body symptom such as high fever or fatigue. While analyzing the pathogenesis of a disease the TCM physician begins with the whole body and the symptoms caused by local processes. The physician takes into account the local pathological changes, viscera and meridians directly concerned with the illness.  The physician also considers the influence of the affected organ and meridian upon other viscera and meridians.

There is a close relationship between the body, natural, geographic, working and family environments. Weather changes, season changes, moving from the coast to Kansas, a friendly or unfriendly boss or colleague, happy or unhappy family all influence your health.  TCM holds that man can not only actively adapt to nature, but also remold it, so as to increase the level of health and reduce disease, e.g. Do more physical exercise to prevent the effects of pathogenic cold, live in a shady or cool place to avoid pathogenic summer heat. — As stated in Plain Questions, a Chinese medicine book published about 2000 years ago.  The body maintains its normal activities by adapting itself to the environment and remolding the natural environment to preserve the integrity of the body.

II. Dynamic View

TCM, greatly influenced by ancient Chinese materialism and dialectics, believes that all things are not static and isolated but interconnected. The body is an organic whole that constantly moves. So does a disease development. For instance, if a common cold with pain in the head and body, fever, and perspiration at start stage does not get controlled, it could be developing another stage, such as high fever, persistent perspiration, restlessness, even semi-consciousness.  As a pathological generalization of disease in its certain stage which is called syndromes in TCM. Syndromes reflect the law and nature of a disease thus serving as a basis for TCM treatment. Therefore, they differ from symptoms.  For example, a patient has all symptoms: palpitation, insomnia, dizziness, blurred vision, numb hands and feet, scanty menstruation and an irregular menstrual cycle. In the Western medical system the patient may see her family doctor for palpitation, insomnia and dizziness, visit her optometrist for blurred vision, receive an adjustment from her chiropractor for numb hands and feet and consult her ob/gyn concerning her scanty menstruation and irregular menstrual cycle.

In the TCM medical system the TCM physician believes all the complaints from this patient are related. In addition to the complaints mentioned above, the TCM physician observes the patient has a pale complexion, light-colored lips, pale tongue and feeble pulse. In TCM the patient’s symptoms are diagnosed as blood deficiency syndrome. The syndrome is often related to a number of causes such as chronic or acute bleedings in various forms, hypofunction of the spleen and stomach, weariness resulting from overthinking, impairment of prolonged illness, homatopoietic disorder due to internal blood stagnation and so on.

The reason for the patient’s symptoms can be explained as follows: Dizziness, blurred vision, pale complexion and light colored lips may appear when deficient blood fails to nourish the head, eyes and face. Lack of blood flow to nourish the heart leads to palpitation and insomnia. A malnourished meridian (vessel) leads to numb hands and feet. When the tongue is not nourished by blood, it becomes light-colored. Additionally, when the meridian is not enriched with blood, the pulse becomes feeble.

At this point in the diagnosis, a treatment plan is provided to tonify the blood in accordance with the causes mentioned above, the condition of the patient and the severity of the chief complaint.

 From the example mentioned above, the TCM physician may provide the same treatment for different diseases such as dizziness, palpitation, insomnia and irregular menstrual cycle if each of these symptoms is related to blood deficiency syndrome. Additionally, different treatment for the same diseases is applied when the same disease is manifested by different syndromes. For instance, insomnia could be caused by excessive liver yang, which is accompanied by vertigo and tinnitus, distension and headache, flushed face and congestive eyes, dark-red tongue and rapid pulse. Treatment to replenish the yin and calm liver yang is provided. This differs from the blood tonification treatment provided for blood deficiency syndrome.

As with a tree, a syndrome is the root of disease, which reflects the law, and nature of a disease in its certain stage. The TCM physician treats the syndrome (root) rather than symptoms (leaves).

III. Natural Therapies

TCM therapies include four main categories: Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Herbal Medicine, Tuina Anmo (Chinese massage) and Qigong (energy healing).

1.      Acupuncture and Moxibustion
In acupuncture the TCM physician or Acupuncturist inserts one or more fine needles into the patient’s body to adjust the energy flow. Thus the treatment plan is accomplished according to the patient’s syndrome. Acupuncture points are like traffic lights on the city street. The TCM physician or Acupuncturist utilizes the needles just like traffic lights to control traffic flow.

Moxibustion treats and prevents disease by applying heat to points or certain locations of the body. The material used is mainly moxa-wool in the form of a cone or stick. For centuries, Moxibustion and Acupuncture have been combined in clinic practice, Thus they are usually termed together in Chinese.

In 1979 the World Health Organization recommended 43 diseases that can be helped by Acupuncture and Moxibustion.  Over 381 diseases in China have successfully been treated by Acupuncture and Moxibustion therapy. Also millions of surgical operations with acupuncture analgesia have been conducted in China. None of them led to death attributed to needling.

2. Herbal Medicine
In ancient China TCM medical experts tasted all the herbs they used in person before they gave them to their patients. Raw herbs could be in the form of bark, leaves, seeds, roots and so forth. Today hundreds of different herb formulas are used to treat different diseases. Several commonly used herbal formulas are manufactured based on Chinese Herb Medicine Classics. These formulas have been used for hundreds of years in China. Herbal medicine can also be used to prevent various health problems.

3. Tuina Anmo (Chinese Massage)
 Tuina Anmo is the Chinese term for bone setting, muscle and joint manipulation and massage. Tuina Anmo could be used in all areas of trauma, internal medicine, surgery, gynecology and pediatrics.

4.  Qigong (Energy Healing)
Qigong is a method to exercise the body’s vital energy. It combines body movement, breathe exercise and mind concentration. Qigong uses body movement to conduct the Qi (vital energy) to the place in which the mind concentrated. At the same time different breath techniques are applied depending on the exercise purpose. Qigong has been widely used to treat many chronic diseases such as hepatitis, hypertension, bronchial asthma, weight loss and cancer. Qigong also serves as an anesthetic technique in certain surgical operations. At present, the application and research of Qigong have gone far beyond the scope of medical practice.

Besides Herbal medicine, which is mostly taken orally, all the other TCM therapies are applied to the body surface for healing. All four kinds of therapies are natural.

 No matter what kinds of therapies a TCM physician chooses, all is based on TCM theory, the TCM diagnosis method and treatment plan. In China, education requirements for a TCM physician are similar to those of a U.S. medical doctor. One must graduate from a 4-8 year medical school program or complete an equal number of years in apprenticeship for a specialized field. In the United States, NCCAOM (National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) offers a high-level test annually for certification in both Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Prior to the examination, the candidate is required to complete at least 3-4 years of full time TCM medical school.

 If you are looking for a TCM practitioner in your area call the National Certification Board for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) at 703-548-9004 or  visit their website at www.nccaom.org.

Article Copyright 1999 Qizhi Gao

Back to Articles