What is Chinese Medicine?
The Chinese medicine practitioner works like a detective, gathering clues from the patient’s health history, pulse characteristics, and tongue features. He or she then analyzes those clues and comes up with a pattern of imbalance which reveals the underlying cause of specific health complaints.
Through thousands of years of study and practice, Chinese medicine doctors developed the theory of acupuncture. They discovered pathways along the body that relate to the organs and systems of the body, through which life energy, called “qi”, travels. They found that when there is illness, the qi (pronounced chee) is blocked, in excess, insufficient, or is unbalanced. Acupuncture was found to be a way of restoring and balancing the flow of qi. By inserting needles in specific points along the channels and manipulating the qi flowing through those channels, organ function can be regulated. Acupuncture can also release muscle tension, decrease inflammation, and alleviate pain.
The efficacy of Chinese medicine can be partially attributed to the fact that each treatment is individualized to the specific person instead of just to symptoms of disease. Treatments address the underlying cause instead of at the symptomatic level alone.
Additionally, Chinese medicine treats problems before they arise: it has ways of detecting a health imbalance before you even notice it’s a problem. Generally, disharmony shows up in the pulse and tongue before it manifests symptomatically. Slight health issues can be corrected before they turn into bigger health issues.
Throughout the last two thousand years, Chinese medicine doctors have recorded their observations and clinical successes, with each generation learning from and improving upon those that came before. Today, that knowledge is being validated by modern research techniques. As scientific trials prove its efficacy, Chinese medicine continues to grow rapidly in popularity and is currently used by a quarter of the worldʼs population.
In order to be licensed as an acupuncturist in the state of California, a student of Chinese medicine must complete several years of herbology. In fact, a larger percentage of the curriculum in most Chinese medical schools is dedicated to herbal medicine due to its complexity. Acupuncture and herbal medicine work synergistically to restore and maintain health. The former works on the energetic system of the body, whereas the latter works more with the body chemistry. By taking herbal medicine daily, the therapy is continued between acupuncture treatments.
There are hundreds of common chinese herbs, and they are usually prescribed in formulas which include 5-14 herbs in combination. Together they have a synergistic effect which makes them much more effective than taking herbs independently. Composing an herbal formula is much like cooking; herbs enhance the effects of one another. Herbs randomly paired together might not be effective, much like if you randomly combine items in your kitchen. Getting the right herbs together, in the right proportions, is a science as well as an art.
Cupping therapy takes waste products and stagnation out of the tissues. These waste products accumulate in the body gradually due to multiple factors such as stress, physical overuse, unhealthy diet, or lack of rest. When waste products are stuck in the tissues, they impede the healing process and encourage muscle spasm. Cupping draws these waste products to the surface, which triggers the body to eliminate them completely. In this way, it is extraordinarily detoxifying. Cupping also releases muscle spasms and stimulates healthy circulation. It works remarkably well and quickly for many conditions, especially neck pain, upper back pain, low back pain, sacral pain, sciatica, common colds, influenza, allergies, asthma, and headaches.
Moxibustion, or moxa, is a technique in which mugwort leaves (Artemisia Vulgaris) are used to apply heat to an acupuncture point. It is used to treat certain debilitating conditions as well as arthritis and pain. Moxa is usually rolled into a stick the size of a cigar, lit, and held over specific areas of the body. Patients enjoy a warm, soothing sensation. The heat is never applied close enough to burn or cause discomfort.
Moxa has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years. In fact, the actual Chinese character for acupuncture translates to “acupuncture-moxibustion.” One use of moxibustion is to strengthen wei qi, or defensive qi of the body to prevent colds and flus. It can also boost the qi and blood to maintain optimal health. When administered on specific points, it is remarkable for increasing white and red blood cell counts. It’s even been shown to help turn breech babies to get ready for childbirth!
Otherwise known as ear acupuncture, auricular acupuncture is a microsystem within Chinese medicine that actually has modern, Western roots. While there is some evidence of ancient Chinese auricular needling, it wasn’t until the 1950s that a French neurologist developed the specialty of ear acupuncture. Out of his development came a systematic mapping of over 200 acupuncture points on the external surface of the ear, representative of the anatomical, physiological, and emotional body.
The ear is the first structure to fully develop about 18 weeks after conception and is composed of the the three primary types of embryologic tissue (endoderm, ectoderm, mesoderm). Interestingly, the map of acupuncture points on the ear takes form of an inverted fetus. Based on this representation, the acupuncturist is able to both assess and treat a patient based on point-for-point correspondences between the ear and the rest of the body.
Auricular acupuncture may be used as a stand-alone treatment, but more often, is used in addition to body acupuncture. It’s highly effective for pain and emotional conditions, and has been the subject of current research for its use as a community health adjunctive therapy for addiction treatment, behavioral health, and cancer care.
What we eat on a daily basis has a profound influence on our health. Nutrition is fully integrated into the theories of Chinese medicine and boosts the success of treatments. Specific foods are recommended for specific patterns of imbalance, as well as for individual constitutions.