As the name suggests, the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated in China encompasses a wide domain of natural and alternative medicinal procedures, a tradition practiced since more than 2000 years and is still very much in vogue in oriental and western countries. TCM includes herbal medications, acupuncture, acupressure, Tai Chi, Tui Na (massage therapy), Qi Gong (exercise therapy) and diet therapy. Traditional Chinese Medicine adopts a natural approach aiming for complete cure without the intervention of conventional medicinal procedures.
Few indications of therapies or medical treatments are noticed on shell inscriptions belonging to Shang dynasty (14th– 11th century BCE) when the concept of ‘medicine’ as a specific domain did not exist at all. Any physiological disorder was considered as a curse from the ancestors. Chinese Metiria Medica dating back to around 1100 BC offers glimpses of drug usage mentioning a long list of 12,800 drugs. Needles made from stone and bones dug out from ancient tombs led the historians conclude some sort of therapies like acupuncture or blood- letting were practiced in ancient China but could not be confirmed without sufficient evidence.
The oldest documentation of Chinese medicine is found in Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon compiled during 1st century BCE. The texts are written in a conversation tone carried on between the Yellow Emperor and other ministers of the court stressing on the link between the human body and the environment and the influence of the cosmic energy on the vitality. This book is the first documentation highlighting the doctrines of Yin Yang and the Five Phases.
Texts highlighting on drug therapy have been compiled in the Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses by Zhang Zhongjing around 196 and 220 CE. This is much advanced version of medical text written during the end of Han dynasty that also fused the doctrine of Yin Yang and Five Phases along with drug therapy. Gradually, in the successive centuries, a complete medical system in China was compiled in advanced texts on various therapies and Yin Yang doctrines in a more organized manner providing strong analysis highlighting the causes and benefits clearly.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is primarily based on the doctrine of Yin Yang and the Five Phases.
Chinese philosophy categorizes the various energy sources linked with celestial bodies in two distinct abstract forms of Yin and Yang which are complementary to each other. More common representations of Yin and Yang are water and fire. Certain characters and disease symptoms are attributed to these two abstract forms. Cold sensations are attributed to Yin whereas the heat sensations are attributed to Yang. Chinese philosophy designates the upper part of the body including the back as Yang and the lower part of the body as Yin. It is believed that any imbalance in the two abstract forms of energy Yin and Yang creates physical disorders. Specific drugs are then administered to treat the symptoms with due emphasis on restoring the Yin Yang balance.
Five Phase Theory:
Five Phase theory constitutes of five basic ‘Elements’ of nature represented by five natural ingredients like wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each of these ingredients comprises of a number of characters that include specific organs, color, direction, climate and taste (sweet, sour etc). Traditional Chinese Medicine thoroughly understands the relationship between these elements based on which diagnosis and therapies are framed.
Above all theories, TCM’s principle lies in the fact that body’s vital life energy (Chi or Qi) always flow through specific points or meridians of the body well connected through different branches. It is this vitality or energy force that enables normal physiological functions (like breathing, digestion etc) required to maintain a healthy body. These functions are identified and the organs related to these functions are categorized under a special functional entity. TCM follows five such functional entities like qi, xue, six fu organs, five zang organs and the meridians spread over our body. The symptoms are diagnosed based on these functional identities and therapies administered accordingly. All these functional entities are interrelated to each other, and any disruption in the energy flow gives rise to disease.
Treatment methods in TCM vary widely depending upon the symptoms and the discomfort experienced by the patient. A TCM practitioner will carefully examine the pulse beat, color of eyes and tongue and other behavioral disorders before initiating any treatment.
In Acupuncture, fine needles are inserted through the skin at specific points or meridians of the body connected to Zang Fu organs to channelize the energy flow throughout the body. This may be followed by herbal application, electrical stimulation or massaging (following Tui Na techniques) depending upon the patient’s requirement.
Herbal medicinal applications are generally formula applications where more than one herbal extracts or herbs are mixed in specific proportions for suitable application. About 400 types of herbs are used in Chinese formula applications. Each formula may involve a mix of 5-15 herbs and devising a special formula may take years. Herbal applications can be taken in the form of teas using dried leaves, through specially formulated pills or raw extracts. The reactions of the herbs with the Zang Fu organs are carefully studied and dosages monitored accordingly.
Qi Gong treatment is applied through a number of physical movements stressing highly on mental concentration to restore the Yin Yang flow maintaining the balance between the Zang Fu organs and the meridians. This is an age told practice aimed in bringing about the perfect mind body harmony generating the Qi force for healthy functioning of the body. This treatment also involves massaging specific parts of the body focusing to balance the Qi force. The patient can take the treatment in sitting, standing and lie-down positions.
As mentioned earlier, TCM covers a broad range of therapies treating common flu, body ache, Pre menstrual symptoms etc. TCM is primarily considered as a mind-body medicine where the perfect balance of mind is given equal importance to physical fitness leading towards complete well being. The herbal medicines and other practices are devoid of side effects. On the other hand, the practices increase the body’s ability to ward off diseases leading to a robust health.