“Chinese medicine isn’t just acupuncture, it involves a whole philosophy of energy balancing.”
What is Chinese Medicine?
It is an ancient system of medicine based on the idea that you are made up of energy that travels through your body in certain patterns. There are 12 meridians, or energy pathways, based on your internal organs. When your energy is out of balance, there are problems. The purpose of all treatment involves getting your energy in balance.
Your body works in equilibrium with the mind and spirit, and always seeks balance and wellness. Our greatest achievement is to allow our body to heal itself. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a centuries-old practice that is being successfully integrated with modern medicine. To understand TCM, you need to know certain basic things. Our bodies are made up of energy that flows through meridians or pathways. When energy is out of balance, there are problems in the body. In order to understand energy, you need to understand the principles of yin and yang.
Yin and yang are essential to the understanding of Chinese medicine, because they are the basis for how energy is understood. The relationship is best represented by the well-known symbol of yin-yang, the “supreme ultimate.” Yin and yang forms a unity and is complementary. Yang contains the seed of yin and yin the seed of yang. Yang changes into yin and yin into yang. Nothing is totally yin or yang. Yin cannot exist without yang and yang cannot exist without yin. The front of the body is yin in relation to the back of the body, but you can’t just say the front is yin without comparing it to the back. It is a dynamic constantly changing balance.
Tools for getting energy balanced include:
- Acupuncture – insertion of tiny painless needles into your skin to help move energy
- Herbs – combinations of traditional Chinese herbs to help balance your energy. They are not used for symptoms, they are used to balance you, which will help your symptoms naturally go away
- Nutrition – certain foods are beneficial for certain organs, sometimes I prescribe special dietary changes to help balance your body better
- Tui Na – a form of massage that helps to move energy
- Cupping – suction cups are applied to certain acupuncture points when energy is very stuck. It can cause big purple marks on your skin
- Moxa – Involves heating needles or skin using an herb called Artemesia or Moxa to move energy or help with balancing it.
How organs work: There are 12 meridians, based on 12 internal organs.
Below is the very basic function of each organ. A more in-depth article is available.
The lungs govern qi (roughly translated as “life force” or “life energy”) and respiration. They are in charge of inhaling air and as such are the intermediary between the inside and the outside world. They are the main protector of the immune system. If lung function is healthy, skin and hair will have luster. The lung meridian ends at the nose, and rules the sense of smell. The emotion is grief, the season is fall, and the flavor is spicy. The element is metal. In Chinese medicine everything is about the connection of things to one another as much as to itself. Metal is generated from the earth, it cuts wood, is melted by fire, and overrun by water.
The Large Intestines are the yang organ of the lungs. Their job is to help the body get rid of waste, which is the same as its western function. When your immune system is weak the two things you are likely to get are diarrhea and upper respiratory infections.
The Spleen –The main function of the spleen is to assist the stomach with digestion by transporting and transforming food essences, absorbing the nourishment from food and separating out the usable aspect of food. It is also one of two sources of blood, the other being the marrow produced by the kidneys. It controls the blood by making sure it stays in the vessels, controls the strength of the muscles, the movement of the limbs and ends in the mouth, where it regulates the sense of taste. The spleen rules the ability to think, concentrate and the emotion of worry. Its spiritual function has to do with being able to receive. The flavor is sweet – people crave sweets when the spleen is out of balance.
The Stomach controls the cooking of food, it prepares it to be digested. Its job is to send energy down and transport food essence through the digestive tract to continue the process of digestion. It is also the origin of fluids in that it extracts fluids from the food you eat to be used by the body and then filtered by the kidneys.
The heart is considered to be the emperor of the internal organs. It houses the spiritual aspect of the mind, called the “shen.” It encompasses the emotional, spiritual and mental aspects of all other organs. The heart is also responsible for good sleep, mental activity, consciousness, and thinking. The heart pathway ends at the tongue and rules the sense of taste, so the appearance of the tongue commonly reflects what is happening in the heart. It rules the emotion of joy. Too much joy will lead to the classic symptoms of mania, an example that even a positive emotion can be out of balance. The element is fire, the season is summer, and the flavor is bitter.
Small Intestine is the Yang organ for the heart. Its job is to separate the clear from the turbid. When food is broken down in the small intestines, some components are absorbed through the intestinal lining, and others are sent through to the large intestines as waste. But the small intestines also do this with thought processes, when your thinking is unclear, it is connected to an imbalance in the small intestines.
The liver is like a military commander in the body, responsible for overall planning of the body’s functions and ensuring a smooth flow of energy throughout. It is also the source of courage and resoluteness. It stores the blood, regulates the menstrual flow, and controls the sinews. It regulates emotions, digestion and secretion of bile. The emotion is anger/frustration, the element is wood, the season is spring and the flavor is sour. Most menstrual problems such as PMS, cramps, and migraines are connected to liver imbalances.
Gallbladder is the Yang organ paired with the liver. It stores and secretes bile which is the same as in the west, it regulates the ligaments and tendons, and it rules the ability to make decisions. When you are trying to get too much done or under extreme stress, the gallbladder is the organ that acts up. This includes getting actual gallbladder pain, or side aches, headaches, neck aches, or even sciatica but also includes difficulty making decisions or moving forward in your plans.
The kidneys are the core of all life force energy. They determine the basic constitution, strength, and vitality of all other organs. They control the energy of important life transitions, such as birth, puberty, menopause and death. If you translate all that into western medicine, the kidneys are responsible for major bodily chemistry, all the hormonal systems, including pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, testes, and ovaries. All brain chemicals such as serotonin, GABA, and other neurotransmitters. Aging itself is due to decline in kidney energy. Kidneys produce the matrix of the bones, bone marrow, spinal cord and brain. They control the low back, the knees, and overall energy level. They control the flow of water in the body. Often if you have low back pain, there is some imbalance in your kidney energy. The kidneys also regulate your hearing and your ears.
Salt is the flavor associated with the kidneys. Fear is the emotion associated with kidney function. They also house your willpower. The element ruled by the kidneys is water and the season is winter. When the kidneys are out of balance, any of the above things can create symptoms. You can have low back pain, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, severe fatigue, cravings of salt, or feelings of fear. You can also have more classic symptoms consistent with western kidney problems, such as frequent urination or bladder infections.
The urinary bladder is the Yang organ that is paired with the kidneys. The bladder carries out the physiological functions of the kidneys. It handles the metabolism of water, affects dreams, and supports the kidneys.