Thinking about trying Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture?
Want to learn more?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture are ancient medical traditions which are getting more popular every year. With more and more new studies showing the benefits of TCM and Acupuncture being published by the Institutions such as Harvard Medicine, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Chinese Medicine way of treating illness is a powerful and effective member of the medical family.
Because Chinese Medicine developed before modern medicine, its approach to treatment and understanding of the body is different from the modern medical approach based on the study of biology, anatomy and physiology.
Both Chinese and Modern Medicine are sciences, but their understanding of what science is is different at the philosophical level.
In this post and future similar ones we will look a little at how Chinese Medicine understands the body and what makes it work.
Having a better idea of how Chinese Medicine works can help you to make a more informed decision when you seek out a clinic to help you with your health issues.
This discussion about how Chinese Medicine works will form a series on the TCM Six blog and is our way of giving back to the Greater Toronto Community, so we hope you enjoy the articles and find them useful in guiding you toward vibrant health!
This first article will cover two topics:
1: TCM is not magic.
2: Qi and Blood.
Let’s get started:
TCM is not magic:
TCM first began to develop around two thousand years ago in ancient China. Originally it started out with the study of dissection and surgery. The most famous ancient doctor of TCM was named Bian Que (who’s name is pronounced kind of like “be-an, chew-eh) who was known to have performed successful surgeries as early as 300 BC.
Later TCM knowledge was codified into two traditions:
1: The School of Acupuncture and Moxibustion.
2: The School of Herbs.
Moxibustion is a form of herbal medicine created from the Mugwort plant and burned on or near the body in order to enable better circulation of the blood, while acupuncture uses metal needles to perform the same function. Herbal medicine is a form of internal or external medicine derived from plants and many other substances which can alter the physiological functions of the body in order to help people heal from diseases.
All three of these traditions were based on clinical experience of ancient physicians and over hundreds of years were recorded and studied in order to understand the function and application of TCM and Acupuncture treatment.
In the Modern West we sometimes have trouble understanding scientific ideas outside of the one’s developed in Europe and the United States over the past 500 years, but TCM is a science and it is not magic.
At this point, maybe it would be a good idea to define what a science is…
According to Oxford Science is:
“the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”
This means that a science is simply a way to understand nature by observing how things in the natural world work.
In modern times, science has been understood to be mainly driven by the study of matter from the atomic to gross physical level, but throughout much of human history science was the study of trends and cycles in the natural world.
In China science started out as the study of the weather, since understanding when it was going to rain, be sunny, be hot, and be cold could greatly benefit agriculture and provide a wealthier nation able to sustain a growing and healthy population.
This study extended to the study of landforms and the movement of the seasons relative to the position of the stars in the night time sky.
As early as 3000 years ago the Chinese already had observatories used to probe the night time sky to understand the movement of celestial bodies and how they changed with each season.
They also discovered ways to chart the land in order to understand which areas were best to farm, build cities, extract resources, and which places were not safe to inhabit.
These early studies of space and geography went on to form the traditional world view of China and can greatly help us to understand why Chinese Medicine views the body as not only a physical object, but also something which is affected by the seasons, the weather, and time.
Chinese Medicine uses a four dimensional view of the body and recognizes that as well as being physical beings, we are also temporal in nature. This can help us to understand so much about why Chinese Medicine treats ailments differently relative to changing circumstances.
If we did not know this information, receiving a Chinese Medicine treatment such as acupuncture or herbs might be very confusing, since it seems like each time the practitioner does strange things like observing our tongue, taking our pulse in several position and changing the areas of the body which she applies needles to as well as frequently changing herbal formulas.
All of this incremental change based on observation is because the practitioner is watching your body change over time as a result of treatment, so your fifth session with an acupuncturist may be very different from your first session, or it could also be quite similar. This depends entirely on what kind of changes the acupuncturist sees in your body during treatment.
In recent years, acupuncture has become quite popular in North America and along with this popularity has been some degree of understandable scepticism. Some members of the medical community welcome acupuncture and herbs with open arms, believing them to be beneficial to the health of their patients. Others have expressed concern that the ideas and methods used in Chinese Medicine seem like a form of magic instead of a hard science. At TCM in the Six we think it is important to address these concerns in a frank and straightforward way.
TCM and Acupuncture are definitely not magic and no one in the entire history of the tradition has ever made magical claims about the effects of acupuncture, herbs or any other modality used in TCM.
Some people in the Western Medical Community have made an understandable mistake in confusing some of the philosophical terms used in Chinese Medicine such as Qi (also written Chi: we will discuss this in a moment) with magical ideas about the life force of the body and spirituality, and even though Chinese spiritual traditions such as Daoism do place an emphasis on ideas like Qi, its use in Chinese Medicine has very little to do with spiritual beliefs and much more to do with actual verifiable physiological functions of the body.
TCM is a science of medicine and has clear and easily studied principles which can not only be proven to be true, but also work effectively in a clinical environment for a wide range of health concerns.
Let’s start our investigation of how TCM works with the concept of Qi!
Part 2: The Study of Qi and Blood:
TCM and Modern Medicine are based on very specific principles which are derived from philosophy, but because Modern Medicine mostly developed during the scientific revolution in early modern and modern Europe and TCM developed over the course of 2000 years in China, the philosophical basis of each tradition is radically different.
We will touch more on ideas of Chinese philosophy in later articles which will discuss things like Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, but for now, I would like to focus mainly on the idea of circulation of air, which is by far the most important principle in TCM and is the benchmark by which we judge all treatments.
In China, the word for air is Qi 氣 and refers to the idea of the basic nature of the atmosphere surrounding us at all times.
In ancient China people believed that the air around us is empty and formless, but even though it can’t be touched or seen, it is always present and supports all life.
As a result of anatomical dissection, ancient Chinese doctors came to understand that the lungs are the organ which processes air in the body and that together with the heart they form a system by which air from the outside environment is brought into the nose and circulated around the arteries and veins to the organs and the entire body.
This air, called Qi has several functions and processes in the body, but most importantly, the air from the environment circulates around the entire body in the blood and nourishes each part of the body and then once it is done nourishing the body it collects waste and is returned back to the lungs where it is expressed via the nose back to the outside environment.
This led Chinese doctors to develop the idea that Qi can be both clear and turbid.
Clear Qi comes from outside our bodies and refers to the oxygen rich air we breathe, while turbid Qi is the co2 laden air which we express on exhalation.
This principle of circulation is the essence of Chinese Medicine and can be used to fully explain the basic characteristics of health in the body.
From the Chinese Medicine perspective, if the circulation of oxygenated air in the body is healthy, the body is more likely to be robust and able to carry out all of its normal functions such as fighting off disease and allowing us to recover from physical exertion.
On the other hand, if the circulation of Qi and blood are not healthy or impeded in some way it will lead to health problems due to either stagnancy or deficiency in various parts of the body.
As we all know, a lack of blood flow to the limbs leads to cold limbs or even numbness of the limbs while a bruise is a form of trapped blood under the surface of the skin.
Ancient Chinese physicians recognized these phenomena and used them to construct the basis of Chinese Medical theory. As you can see this is perfectly rational and based on true evidence derived from practical research and observation over hundreds of years.
Because the unimpeded flow of oxygenated blood around the body is so important to health, TCM is largely concerned with how to restore that function when it becomes impeded.
This means that TCM and Acupuncture are very good at helping people with problems which arise as a result of poor circulation. When you consider that circulation of blood is vital for every physical function of the body to work properly, you can see why the principle of restoring circulation is such a powerful medical principle and why TCM withstood the test of time when ancient Western holistic medicine did not.
TCM is a form of medicine based on observation, experimentation, and practical experience and it really works.
Principles such as the concept of Qi are based on true observations about the nature of the body and the environment and have not only been proven in clinical experience, but are also commonly accepted ideas in modern biology, even if the words used to explain their function are different.
When you go for a TCM or acupuncture treatment you are receiving a standard of care based on a scientific approach to medicine and you can rest assured that your practitioner of choice has the background needed to have a deep understanding of how the body works and how to treat illnesses, giving you a better chance of getting back to full health faster.
Thanks for reading this article, please stay tuned for new articles which will be published every week.
At TCM in the Six we want you to be fully informed about TCM and Acupuncture so that when you seek out treatment for your health issues you can rest assured that you are getting the best service available.
Our clinic is set to open in Toronto November of 2021 and we will be offering classes in Qigong, Tai Chi, and Tea Ceremony before then, so stay tuned for more!