What is Chinese Medicine

As a system of medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, has been evolving for more than 2,500 years. Moreover, it has the distinction of being the longest continually practiced medical system in the world.

TCM is primarily a system of medicine, but it evolved also as a way of understanding mankind and our place in the universe. For this reason, much emphasis is placed on how we interact with and reflect nature and civilization. Consequently, much of the medicine is based on observation, a key factor in the basis of any scientific undertaking.

The concept of Yin and Yang is the most basic and most important concept in TCM. Most people, including some practitioners (!), prioritize Qi, but in fact, it is Yin and Yang that are pivotal to understanding TCM and optimizing health. It is important to understand that Yin and Yang developed primarily as concepts used to explain the natural world and its phenomena. So, in understanding these two concepts, realize that they are the foundation of an ordered way of looking at the world. The image above illustrates a common way of viewing Yin and Yang, with Yin the shady side of the mountain, and Yang the sunny side. Yin and Yang are opposites, but interdependent and therefore complimentary; one cannot exist without the other and there is always Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin. Yin is associated with cold, heavy, dark, is inward in motion, and relates to stagnation. In terms of anatomy and physiology, it corresponds to the interior and lower body; yin organs, sinews and bones; blood and construction. In terms of pathology, due to excess or deficient Yin, disorders are characterized by cold and are deficient and interior in nature. Yang is dynamic and active; it expands; it is radiant and hot. The functions of the two correspond, therefore, to these various (and other) characteristics: Yin cools, while Yang warms; Yin nourishes, while Yang transforms; Yin gives opportunity for inactivity, while Yang protects, moves and maintains (referring to its ability to keep blood in the vessels, as well as organs and body fluids in their respective places). Finally, Yin is the material basis for Yang, which is the transformative power.

Yin/Yang theory, is, therefore, central to the medicine and is what the medicine seeks to harmonize when a person is ill. This can be done both with acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

Chinese Medicine includes a broad range of disciplines, including, but not limited to acupuncture, Chinese herbs, cupping therapy, heat therapy, liniments, medical Qi Gong, electro-therapies, moxibustion, and gua sha.

Books that are accessible to the practitioner and layperson alike include The Web that Has No Weaver and Between Heaven and Earth.