Traditional Chinese Medicine (also called TCM) is the term given to a wide variety of treatments from various locations across Asia. While considered an alternative therapy in Western countries, it’s a long-standing and widely accepted medical practice in many Asian countries. But what exactly is TCM?
The Simplest Definition
Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about balance. It’s also a holistic approach, treating the mind, body and spirit as intertwined. Any one part of a complete organism that gets out of balance – in both the physical and meta-physical sense – and illness will occur.
It gets it’s roots in the yinyang theory (which has been absorbed by Taoism). Yinyang theory is again all about balance. It states that all phenomena in the universe can be divided into two opposite yet complementary parts. Some familiar examples might be female/male, cold/hot, moon/sun, light/dark and so forth. In the strictest sense, neither is good or bad, but instead both are parts of the whole. Traditional Chinese Medicine is meant to maintain balance and maintain health in the process.
Qi and Meridians
Qi (pronounced and often written as chi) refers to the vital force of the body. It’s often mis-understood to mean “spirit” or “soul” when it fact, it’s more like an energetic blood that flows through the body. It flows through the body along the meridian lines, as well as through other channels.
The details of qi alone can be a lifetime study, and it’s far beyond the scope of this article. All you really need to know is this: qii s an energy that flows through the body and it’s very important to Chinese medicine.
So What Kinds of Treatments Can I Expect from Chinese Medicine?
As a holistic therapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine includes a surprising array of treatments. Here are just a few:
Herbal medicine- This includes the use of herbs, roots, mushrooms and other natural products for their medicinal value. Some exotic animal parts and minerals may also be used, some of which are very controversial. There are herbal medicines to treat virtually illness and condition known to medical science, and even some that aren’t.
Acupuncture- This is the practice of inserting needles – very thin ones – into certain points along the body. Traditional acupuncture follows the meridian lines mentioned earlier, but modern practitioners are adding their own spin to their methods. Acupuncture is commonly used for chronic pain, psychological disorders, or other nervous-system disorders. It’s more devout supporters will recommend it for just about anything else, too.
Cupping- Cupping is an unusual form of massage/detoxification. This requires special glass cups which have the air inside heated by a flame or smoke. While still warm inside, they are placed on the back where they then suck up the skin into the cup. Some of the more modern clinic also use cups with pumps installed. Meant to cleanse the body of toxins, it’s not recommended if you plan to go to the beach: it leaves great big red circles all down your back!
Gua sha- Another unusual treatment, gua sha is the process of rubbing the skin with smooth bits of jade, stone, bone or tusk. It’s not a gentle treatment, often resulting in painful bruising or red marks on the skin. It’s believed therapeutic use is quite broad, however, as it is be used for everything from hot weather to cholera. Not a treatment for those with a low pain threshold!
Physical and Breathing exercises – Traditional Chinese Medicine also encourages its practitioners/patients to engage in healthy exercise. For the flow and balance of qi, however, only the right exercises will do. Taichi, qigong, yoga, meditation and martial arts are all considered excellent exercises within Traditional Chinese Medicine, as is meditation and various breathing exercises.
Is Traditional Chinese Medicine Safe?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is… medicine. That means that if used correctly, it can have great therapeutic value. But like any medicine used incorrectly, it can be dangerous. Always consult health care professionals before starting any new treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has the additional hazard of being less regulated. Scams and con artists abound, so it’s as important to check credentials as carefully as any other healthcare professional you see. Also, this lack of regulation means that many Chinese medical practices are largely untested by the scientific community. This means that the therapies can range from beneficial, to useless, or even to harmful. Again, care and common sense should be your guide.
Is Traditional Chinese Medicine for Me?
Put simply: maybe. Between drug recalls, doctor errors, and skyrocketing medical costs, many people are turning to alternative therapies. They can benefit a patient in many ways. For some people, however, it may not be the best choice. For those with serious conditions such as cancer or acute conditions like appendicitis, Western medicine still has a better track record. However, it doesn’t mean these treatments can’t be supplemented with Traditional Chinese Medicine for even greater effect. Ultimately, the choice is up to you and your healthcare plan.