History of Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine is a time proven medicine with a written history dating back over 4,000 years and its practice dates back over 5,000 years. It is the oldest, professional, continually practiced, literate medicine in the world, with ¼ of the world’s current population making use of its benefits. The U.S. National Institute of Health & the World Health Organization recognizes over 100 disorders and conditions effectively treated by Acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

Chinese medicine originated and developed into a highly detailed, organized and integrated system when technology was minimal and people’s connection with and dependence on the natural environment was essential. Because of this, it developed some very important attributes that benefit us tremendously in our modern era. The exploration of this development is important in understanding Chinese medicine and its terminology.

General Info on Chinese Medicine:

Chinese/Oriental medicine works by reestablishing balance & harmony within the body. Oriental medicine explains that human beings have a natural flow of energy (Qi) through the body, which can become blocked or imbalanced, thus producing pain & disease. Blockages and imbalances can be caused by: influences outside of the body (ie: bacteria, contagious disease, trauma, repetitive strain injury, etc.), lifestyle (improper diet, not enough/too much exercise, over work), & emotional issues (stress, anxiety, grief, anger, etc.).

Basic Principals of Oriental Medicine –

The “Self-Healing Mechanism of the Body:

Central to the concepts behind Chinese Medicine is the idea of the body as “self-healing”. That is, as living beings, we are all naturally full of vitality and are continually, and quite unconsciously, being rebalanced and regenerated from within everyday. This is not difficult to understand. For instance, cuts heal ‘on their own’; women have the creative power to develop and produce children ‘on their own’, and the children in turn grow and develop from babies to toddlers, young children to teenagers, teenagers to adults – all ‘on their own’.

In a similar way, food is broken down, transformed and separated into useful parts that are absorbed by the body and useless parts that are evacuated – all automatically, without any conscious or outside influence. In other words, there is a great source – and resource – within the body that continually maintains order, working ceaselessly for our benefit and health.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine sees the body as a self-rectifying dynamic whole, a network of interrelating and interacting energies. Their even distribution and flow maintains health, but any interruption, depletion or stagnation leads to disease. Chinese Medicine is a system of medicine which seeks to aid these natural processes, helping the body to correct itself by nourishing and or realigning or redirecting the “energy” or “Qi” (pronounced ‘chee’).

The basic principals of Oriental Medicine are founded in the concepts of Qi and in the duality of Yin & Yang. Qi exists in various forms in & around us, as a version of energy or a manifestation of matter. In its least substantial and more energized state, it is considered more yang in nature. In its more substantial and least energized state, it is considered more yin in nature.

The concept of yin and yang is probably the single most important and distinctive theory of Chinese Medicine. It could be said that all Chinese medical physiology, pathology and treatment can, eventually, be reduced to yin-yang. The concept of yin-yang is extremely simple, yet, very profound. Yin and yang represent opposite, yet complimentary qualities. Yin and yang are convenient labels used to describe how things function in relation to each other and to the universe. They are used to explain the continuous process of natural change. Yin and yang, contain within themselves the possibility of opposition and change. All things in nature have two facets: a yin aspect and a yang aspect. The character of ‘Yin’ originally meant “the shady side of the slope”. It is associated with such qualities as cold, rest, passivity, darkness, interior, downwards, inwardness, decrease, satiation, tranquility and quiescence. The original meaning of ‘Yang’ was “the sunny side of the slope”. Yang is associated with qualities such as heat, stimulation, movement, activity, excitement, vigor, light, exterior, upwardness, outwardness, and increase. Yang is associated with arousal, beginning and dynamic potential. Within Yin, there is the seed of Yang and within Yang there is the seed of Yin. Thus, one cannot exist without the other and although yin and yang can be distinguished, they cannot be separated. They depend on each other for definition and distinction. Yin-Yang theory is well illustrated by the traditional Chinese Taoist symbol (see below). The circle representing the whole is divided into Yin (black) and Yang (white). The small circles of opposite shading illustrates that within the yin there is yang and vice versa. The dynamic curve dividing them indicates that yin and yang are continuously merging. Thus, Yin and Yang create each other, control each other, and transform into each other.

The concept of “Qi” is difficult to define. It is often translated as “breath”, “life-force”, “vitality”, “prana”, “energy” or simply as “that which makes us alive”. If there is no Qi, there is no life. For instance, a wilting flower or plant is lacking Qi; a feeble person and a weak voice both show a lack of Qi; strong, lively, energetic people have plenty of Qi; There is a lot of Qi at a children’s party; and there is a lot of Qi in quiet strength. In illness, the Qi is depleted, causing tiredness, depression, digestive complaints, frequent colds, etc.; or the Qi may be disturbed, causing irritability and bodily over-reactions. Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Medicine makes a detailed study of Qi, dividing it into many different kinds depending on its function – such as nourishing or protecting, as well as, views the direction (s) it is taking within the body. These different forms of Qi enter the body via the respiratory and digestive systems and are sustained and nourished through diet, lifestyle, exercise. These forms combine with the body’s congenital energies, to provide the body’s Qi, blood, & body fluids necessary for life. The unobstructed & proper flow of Qi, blood & body fluids throughout the body provides a basis for harmony, balance, health & wellness.

Along with the notion of Qi, Chinese Medicine recognizes a subtle energy system by which Qi is circulated through the body in a network of channels or ‘meridians’. There are 14 main channels/meridians in the body assigned with acupuncture points, one meridian for each of the 12 inner organs, one meridian along the spine, and another along the mid-line of the abdomen & chest. In addition to the 14 main Meridians/Channels, there are also 8 secondary meridians/channels through which the energy of the body, or “Qi”, moves and flows. Specifically, the meridians of the body conduct Qi flow between the surface of the body and internal organs.

When an acupuncture needle is inserted into one of these points, it is the Qi that is affected. This interlacing network of meridians is the crux of traditional acupuncture.

The Chinese themselves have compared the flow of Qi through the meridian system to water irrigating land: feeding, nourishing, and sustaining the substance through which it flows. It is similar in some ways to the blood circulation and nervous system but is invisible to the eye, although it can be sensed by a trained practitioner, often felt by the patient and has been charted since more than 4,000 years ago. By needling the points, the Qi can be ‘tapped’ or affected to influence the state of health.

Chinese/Oriental medical procedures

may not always be able to diagnose or locate the abnormalities as defined in the Western medical criteria, ie., certain early-staged cancers, which may be better detected by the diagnostic interventions of high technology. Therefore, based on this point of view, in Chinese Medicine it is said that “Western medicine locates the disease, Oriental medicine treats it”.

Traditional Chinese medicine also heavily stresses and emphasizes preventive measures taken in the patient’s and in one’s health. A maxim in TCM says, “A top healer treats those when the disease has not yet developed.”