What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
TCM is a system of healing that originated thousands of years ago. It has evolved into a well-developed, coherent system of medicine that uses several modalities to treat and prevent illness. The most commonly employed therapeutic methods in TCM include acupuncture/moxibustion, Chinese herbal medicine, diet therapy, Tui Na (Chinese massage), and Mind/body exercises (Qi gong and Tai Chi).
TCM views the human body and its functioning in a holistic way. From this perspective, no single body part or symptom can be understood apart from its relation to the whole. Unlike Western medicine, which seeks to uncover a distinct entity or causative factor for a particular illness, TCM looks at patterns of disharmony, which include all presenting signs and symptoms as well as patients’ emotional and psychological responses. Humans are viewed both as a reflection of and as an integral part of nature, and health results from maintaining harmony and balance within the body and between the body and nature.
Two basic TCM theories explain and describe phenomena in nature, including human beings: Yin -Yang Theory and the Five Phases Theory or Five Element Theory.
Yin and Yang are complementary opposites used to describe how things function in relation to each other and to the universe. They are interdependent — one cannot exist without the other, and they have the ability to transform into each other. The traditional Yin - Yang symbol depicts the Yin (the dark side) flowing into the Yang (the light side) and vice versa. The dots within each side symbolize that there is always a bit of Yin within Yang and a bit of Yang within Yin; there are no absolutes. All physiological functions of the body, as well as the signs and symptoms of disease, can be differentiated on the basis of Yin and Yang characteristics.
The Chinese character for Yin originally meant the shady side of a slope. Qualities characteristic of Yin include cold, stillness, darkness, inwardness, passivity, decrease, and downwardness. In contrast, the Chinese character for Yang originally meant the sunny side of the slope, and qualities characteristic of Yang include heat, movement, brightness, outwardness, stimulation, excitement, increase and upwardness. Illnesses that are characterized by coldness, weakness, slowness, and underactivity are considered Yin (e.g., hypothyroidism: cold limbs, fatigue, slowed metabolism). Illnesses that manifest strength, forceful movement, heat, and overactivity are Yang (e.g., acute infections with fever and sweating).
The theory of Five Phases, Wu Xing, is a means of classifying phenomena in terms of five basic processes represented by the elements wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. There exists a dynamic balance and relationship among the elements such that if the balance is interrupted or destroyed, pathological changes may occur. The clockwise movement of one element into the next (wood, fire, earth, and so forth) whereby one element generates, acts on, or promotes the following element, is referred to as the Sheng cycle. The Ke cycle represents an element acting on or controlling another element in a different order.
Within the model of Five Phases, each element is associated with an organ. Wood is associated with the liver, fire with the heart, earth with the spleen-pancreas-stomach, metal with the lungs, and water with the kidneys. In addition, other phenomena, such as seasons, cardinal directions, weather, color, and emotions, are associated with each element. Within the TCM model, diagnostic information is gained by finding out patients’ favorite season, color, and predominant emotion(s).