Alternative Medical Systems
medicine is a complete medical system that has diagnosed, treated,
and prevented illness for over twenty-three centuries. While it
can remedy ailments and alter states of mind, Chinese medicine
can also enhance recuperative power, immunity, and the capacity
for pleasure, work, and creativity.
Within Chinese Cosmology, all of
creation is born from the marriage of two polar priciples, Yin
and Yang: Earth and Heaven, winter and summer, night and
day, cold and hot, wet and dry, inner and outer, body and mind.
Harmony of this union means health, good weather, and good fortune,
while disharmony leads to disease, disaster, and bad luck. The
strategy of Chinese medicine is to restore harmony.
Each human is seen as a world in
miniature, a garden in which doctor and patient together strive
to cultivate health. Every person has a unique terrain to be mapped,
a resilient yet sensitive ecology to be maintained. Like a gardener
uses irrigation and compost to grow robust plants, the doctor
uses acupuncture, herbs and food to recover and sustain health.
Moisture, Blood, Spirit, Essence)
Just as Nature contains air, sea,
and land, the human body is comprised of Qi, (pronounced
chee), Moisture, and Blood. Qi is the animating
force that gives us our capacity to move, think, feel, and work.
Moisture is the liquid medium which protects, nurtures,
and lubricates tissue. Blood is the material foundation
out of which we create bones, nerves, skin, muscles, and organs.
Human beings intermingle psyche
and soma, Spirit (Shen) and Essence (Jing). Shen
is the immaterial expression of the individual; and Essence
represents the body's reproductive and regenerative substance.
Chinese medicine appreciates the impact of the unseen upon the
visible. Even though it is impossible to touch or measure thoughts
or emotions, they are acknowledged as inextricably linked to physiology.
Heart, Spleen, Lung, Kidney)
As Nature is organized by five
primal powers- Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water- so the
body is divided into five functional systems known as Organ
Networks. These Networks govern particular tissues,
mental faculties, and physical ativities by regulating and preserving
Qi, Moisture, Blood, Spirit, and Essence.
For example, the Kidney Network
includes yet extends beyond the job of managing fluid metabolism
which we in the West ordinarily associate with the kidneys. The
Kidney stores the Essence responsible for reproduction,
growth, and regeneration. It controls the treeth, bones, marrow,
brain, inner ear, pupil of the eye, and lumbar region, and is
associated with the emotion of fear, the will, and the capacity
for sharp thinking and perception. So problems such as retarded
growth, ringing in the ears, infertility, low back pain, paranoia,
fuzzy thinking, weak vision, apathy, or dispair are veiwed as
dysfunctions of the Kidney Network.
The Heart not only propels
blood through the vessels, but harbors the Spirit and governs
the mind. Symptoms as varied as anxiety, restless sleep, angina,
and palpitations occur when the Heart is agitatied.
The Spleen is in charge
of the assimliation of food and fluids, as well as ideas, so when
this Network is disturbed, indigestion, bloating, fatigue,
scattered thinking, and poor concentration ensue.
The Liver is responsible
for the storage of Blood, flow of Qi, and eveness
of temperament- so when the Liver is thwarted, tension
in the neck and shoulders, high blood pressure, headaches, cramping,
moodiness, and impulsive behavior may follow.
Through the breath, the Lung
sets the body rhythm, defends its boundaries, and affords inspiration.
A troubled Lung might trigger tightness in the chest, skin
rashes, vulnerability to colds or flus, rigid thinking, or melancholy.
Dampness, Dryness, Heat, Cold)
In Nature, extreme wind, dampness,
dryness, heat, and cold wreak havoc in the world. These same forces
can derange balance within the human body, weakening or obstructing
the movement of Qi in the organs. As winds shake the trees
of the forest, dissasembling leaves and branches, internal Wind
manifests as vertigo, unsteady movement, and trembling. As saturated
earth generates swamps, so Dampness becomes phlegm and
edema in the body. As aridity withers vegitation, so Dryness
causes chapping or cracking of mucus membranes. Just as ice inhibits
the rush of water in a stream, so internal Cold retards
circulation and depresses metabolism. And just as fire scorches
the earth, so internal Heat may inflame tissue.
Qi, Moisture, and Blood
circulate within a web of pathways called channels that link together
all parts of the organism. Health exists when adequate Qi,
Moisture, and Blood flow smoothly. Symptoms as varied
as joint pain, headache, anxiety, fatigue, menstrual cramps, high
blood pressure, asthma, indigestion, and the common cold occur
when thier circulation is disrupted.
All illness is understood as a
consequence of either a depletion or a congestion of Qi, Moisture,
and Blood. Depletionleads to weakness, lethargy, frequent
illness, poor digestion, and inadequate blood flow. Congestion
results in aches, tension, tenderness, pain, a distended abdomen,
irritability, and swelling.
Practitioners assess a person's
health by feeling the pulsations at each wrist and by observing
the color and form of the face, tongue, and body. This information
is interpreted in the context of a patient's present and past
complaints, work and living habits, physical environment, family
health history, and emotional life.
For example, if Max has red eyes,
a yellow coating on his tongue, and a bounding pulse, this indicates
Heat and congested Qi. He may be complaining of
stomach pain, migraine, nausea, fever, or bronchitis. If Emma
has pale lips, brittle hair, a thin pulse, and dry tongue, this
suggests deficiency of Blood and Moisture, which
undermines the function of the Liver, Heart, and
Spleen. Her complaints may be that she feels tense, anxious,
and irritable, has been unable to conceive, and has trouble with
chronic fatigue, depression, or insomnia. Diagnosis is a way of
understanding a problem within the categories of Chinese medicine.
The goal of treatment is to adjust
and harmonize Yin and Yang-wet and dry, cold and
heat, inner and outer, body and mind. This is achieved by regulating
the Qi, Moisture, and Blood in the Organ
Networks: weak organs are tonified, congested channels are
opened, excess is dispersed, tightness is softened, agitation
is calmed, heat is cooled, cold is warmed, dryness is moistened,
and dampness is drained.
Treatment may incorporate acupuncture,
herbal remedies, diet, exercise, and massage. Duration of treatment
depends on the nature of the complaint, its severity, and how
long it has been present. Acupuncture is scheduled as often an
three times a week or as little as twice a month. Response varies.
some need only a few sessions while others need sustained care
to reverse entrenched patterns established over time. As symptoms
improve, fewer visits are required, individual progress being
Acupuncture is based on the assumption
that Qi courses through the body just as streams and rivers
ebb and flow across the surface of the earth. Every Organ Network
has a corresponding set of channels. The acupuncture points are
located in small depressions int the skin called "men" or "gates"
where the channels come closest to the surface. In ancient times,
when cities were fortified by walls, gates were opened to recieve
sustenance and closed to keep harm away. With acupuncture, the
gates of the body are opened and closed to adjust circulation
in the channels and expel noxious influences from them.
Thin, solid, sterile stainless
steel acupuncture needles are inserted into acupuncture points
to communicate from the outside to the inside. Acupuncture mobilizes
Qi, Moisture, Blood, invigorating proper function of the
muscles, nerves, vessels, glands, and organs.
Insertion of the needles goes unnoticed
by some, and to others feels like a small pinch followed by a
sensation of tingling, numbness, ache, traveling warmth, or heaviness.
Sometimes people feel Qi moving at distance from the point
of insertion. Needles remain in place for twenty to forty minutes.
Usually relaxation and an elevation of spirit accompanies treatment.
It is as normal to want to continue resting as it is to be immediately
energized. Some notice a relief of symptoms or feel more energetic
in the days that follow treatment. Most people are pleased to
find that sessions are not uncomfortable and even look forward
Acupuncture Can Treat
It would be most accurate to say
that acupuncture treats disorders of Qi, Blood, and Moisture,
and disturbances of the Organ Networks-but this does not
correspond to the Western vocabulary of named diseases and conditions.
Acupuncture may be helpful for: Withdrawl from addictions such
as sugar, coffee, cigatettes, alcohol, and cocaine; stress reduction;
post surgical recovery; chronic fatigue; the signs of aging; and
decreased immunity. Some of the many conditions for which acupuncture
is considered appropriate are listed by the World Health Organization
of the United Nations:
colds and flu
high blood pressure
Muskulo-Skeletal and Neurologic
ringing in the ears
pre-menstural syndrome (PMS)
pelvic inflamitory disease (PID)
irregular period or cramps
Remedies and Supplements
Herbal medicine is itself a powerful method
of healing. Western drugs often control symptoms, but do not
alter the disease process ( antibiotics eliminate bacteria but
do not improve a person's resistance to infection; diuretics
fid excess fluid without improving kidney function). Chinese
herbs treat the underlying condition as defined by traditional
diagnosis, and rarely cause unwanted side-effects.
soil becomes depleted through overuse, so the Qi, Moisture,
Blood are eroded by overwork, emotional tension, mental strain,
too much or too little exercise, and inadequate diet or rest,
impairing the capacity of the Organ Networks to do thier
Since fatigue results from a lack
of Qi, herbs that nourish the Qi have an energizing
effect. Since blurry vision, restless sleep, and irritability
result from depleted Blood, Blood-enriching herbs
improve vision, sleep, and equanimity. Since dry skin and dehydration
arise from insufficient Moisture, herbs that replenish
it soften the skin and relieve an otherwise unquenchable thirst.
Herbs assist the Organ Networks
in the performance of thier tasks. Particular herbs enhance the
capacity of the Heart to propel the blood and soothe the
mind, the Spleen to manage digestion and fluid equillibrium,
the Lung to handle respiration and body's defenses the
Liver to maintain resillient emotions an supple limbs,
and Kidney to sustain sexual and regenerative power. Some
herbal formulas address ailments such as colds, allergies, inflammations,
or cramps with dramaic and immediate results, while others fortify
body reserves over time.
For example, Jake's stuffy head
and cloudy senses are relieved by herbs that dispel Heat
and Wind. Herbs that strengthen the Lung and Qi
will increase his resistance to colds and flus. Kate experiences
menstural distress as a result of congested Qi, Moisture, Blood
in the abdomen-a traffic jam that results in sore and swollen
tissue, a puffy face, irritability, lethargy, and cramps. Herbs
that invigorate her circulation can dislodge the pile-up, relieving
Linda is concerned about the signs
of aging that occur as Essence and Blood diminish.
Herbs that nourish the Kidney and Liver replenish
Essence and Blood so that healthy bones, supple
skin, shiny hair, and an even temperament prevail while the fading
of sexuality or hot flashes are prevented.
Chinese herbs are usually combined
in formulas to enhance thier properties and actions.Symptoms and
signs are matched with therapeutic effects, reflecting the particular
conditions and needs of each patient. Tonic formulas restore eroded
body resourses; regulating formulas decongest the Qi, Moisture,
and Blood , relieving discomfort; and purging formulas
eliminate adverse climates, inviting clear weather.
Formulas are available in a variety
of forms: crude herbs to be boiled into tea, liquid bottled extracts,
ground herbs packaged in pills, and powders. Herbs, more like
foods than drugs, can suppliment our diet and fortify our constitution
as well as prevent or remedy ailments. Sometimes long-term use
of herbs is desireable whereas extended use of pharmaceuticals
would not be healthy.
How Western and Chinese
Because Chinese medicine views people as ecosystems
in miniature, it seeks to improve our capacity to balance and
renew our resources. Chinese medicine can minimize the erosion
of our soil by enriching it, maximize the flow of nutrients by
increasing circulation, and help prevent bottlenecks that obstruct
Often Western medicine intervines
only after crisis arise, whereas Chinese medicine anticipates
problems by sustaining our interior landscape. By correcting depletion
and stagnation at earlier stages, greater problems later on are
Sometimes Western medicine has
nothing to offer for nagging chronic complaints that Chinese medicine
can help. The two are not a substitute for each other. They are
often complementary. Whereas Western medicine may heroically rescue
us, Chinese medicine can protect and preserve our health day to
The regulation of health care practices
differs from state to state. Since 1976 California has licensed
qualified acupuncturists as primary care providers through its
Board of Medical Quality Assurance. Safe an effective practice
standards have beed established by the National Commission for
the Certification of Acupuncturists (NCCA). All practitioners
certified by this Commission or the state comply with strict requirements
for sterile needles. Many health insurance policies elect to cover
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