Chinese Medicine - a different paradigm

It is important that we in the West acknowledge that the Chinese have a completely different philosophy underpinning their health care modalities. In some respects we have poached and amended for our own use aspects of their ancient system of healing and we try and bend it to fit our convenience. But in truth Ancient or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cannot be understood and applied from a Western perspective without complete immersion in the wisdom of China.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) is probably responsible for the path medical thought has taken in the West. The idea of causation is central to Western thinking and hence our practises set out to root out the cause of disease wherever possible and bang it on the head with whatever technology is fashionable. This thinking is almost entirely absent in Chinese thinking (except where the Western model has been adopted). Instead, the Chinese believe that phenomena occur independently of any cause because everything is interconnected and dynamic. Patterns and form are more important than a specific cause of disease.  So, all the so-called complementary and alternative therapies in the UK which are derived from true Chinese medicine (e.g. TCM, acupuncture, reiki, shiatsu, Chinese 5 elements) have embodied within them these basic tenets which distinguishes them from therapies with their roots in Aristotelian or Galenic thinking ( e.g. herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutritional therapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, Bowen therapy etc.) Some of these therapies are now ever closer to conventional medicine (e.g. chiropractic, osteopathy) and are included in the NHS, and cannot always be called holistic in the true sense. Traditional Chinese Medicine only works because it has an effective arsenal of therapeutic devices which it knows when to employ. In the West we may have a tendency to take these ‘therapeutic devices’ individually and not embrace the whole of TCM.

Essential to Chinese medicine are the concepts of Chi and Yin-Yang and their complete integration, not only in the human body but in the cosmos. Chi is the thread binding all things together in the universe. It is the breath and pulsation of the universe and exists in all things from mineral to human. It is dynamic, flowing, omnipotent and life affirming as well as capable of becoming stagnant and disease-inducing. The possibility of this unity of opposites is expressed by the Yin and Yang ‘theory’ which is essential to acknowledge for any understanding of the mechanism of Chinese medicine practices. Within the familiar Taoist symbol lie the characteristics of Yin and Yang. The black represents Yin and the white represents Yang. The circle which surrounds them represents the whole and the dynamic curve dividing them represents their continual movement and merging one with another. Each contains a small portion of the other as they control each other, create each other and transform into each other. Thus harmony can be established when Yin and Yang are in balance. The Chinese medicine practitioner is trained to perceive disharmony in Yin-Yang and to apply an appropriate therapeutic modality from the arsenal to restore harmony. A TCM treatment may involve herbs and diet, or diet and exercise like Tai Chi, or shiatsu and acupuncture as required by the individual to work towards harmony in their body and in their life style.

Essential to Chinese medicine are the concepts of Chi and Yin-Yang and their complete integration.