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Basic Theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Last updated by tracy1028 at 2014/8/30

Some thousand years aged, Traditional Chinese Medicine (MTC) is a set of theories and practices concerning human beings and their health.
 

Its relative complexity, for Westerners, holds especially to the following facts:
- It possesses its own philosophic and symbolic basis;
- It sees the body, the heart and the spirit as a whole;
- It elaborated not by dissecting dead bodies but by observing alive people. Consequently, nothing is seen as static;
- It considers the phenomena not in itself nevertheless from the interconnection between them. Therefore, the healthiness of an organ or a person depends on multiple factors all interrelated;
- The usual terms are employed in a different meaning than the Western one.
 

To insure the well-being of people, the Traditional Chinese Medicine turns to 5 main do.
- Acupuncture;
- Chinese pharmacopoeia (medicinal herbs);
- Tui Na massage;
- Energy exercises: Qi Ging and t’ai chi.
 

Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctors acquire the 5 practices. Only skilled in one or in some of these practices, they have a specific title, acupuncturist, chemist, etc…

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine
 

Even if Traditional Chinese Medicine has for first objective to maintain health and to prevent diseases, it also intends to solve punctual or chronic sicknesses, among which skin problems, neurological, digestive, respiratory, genital, hormonal disorders as well as infections and emotional troubles.
 

The general principle: Harmony

Traditional Chinese Medicine aspires at first at maintaining the harmony of the energy inside the body as well as between the body and the external elements. Health is bound to the capacity of the body to maintain the necessary dynamic to face the outer attacks. In return, the disease shows itself when the body lose its capacity of adaptation.
 

Every individual owes a particular constitution with which the various elements interact, according to one’s own balance. Two persons same symptom (headache or digesting difficulty, for example) does apparently not result from the same cause, but from the imbalance of each of them.
 

The ancient Chinese believed harmony has to subsist in each and between every organ of the human being linked with the surrounding together. They likened it to the flow of energy around and through the body, forming a cohesive and functioning unit.

By understanding its rhythm and flow they believed they could guide exercises and treatments to provide stability and longevity.
 

The Traditional Chinese Medicine treats the person, in a holistic way.
 

The fundamental element: qi

In traditional Chinese culture, qì (also chi or ch'i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as "life energy", "life force", or "energy flow".
 

According to the Chinese vision, symbolic and practical at the same time, everything in the universe is moved by a fundamental strength, an energy called qi.
 

Qi makes electrons circulate in atoms. It allows the cells to multiply, the plants and the human beings to grow. It also leads the movement of the wind and the celestial bodies.
 

It cannot be touched nor seen. As it is the case for the electricity, only noticeable is its effects and as far as the human being is concerned, qi supports both the functions of the body and the spirit:  walking, digesting, thinking, feeling are its expression.
 

This continuous energy flow circulates in all the body by means of an immaterial, but precise network, through channels known as meridians. On the course of meridians are points in the skin, called acupuncture points and stimulating these points can correct imbalances in the flow of qi.
 

When qi is in satisfactoriness and circulates well, the body is healthy, the thought clear and the reflexes lively. When it stagnates or is blocked, the body is weak, heavy and without vitality.
 

“Yin and Yang”

The "yin and yang" concept is used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

yin and yang
 Yin and Yang

Yin and yang are actually complementary, not opposing, forces, interacting to form a whole greater than either separate part; in effect, a dynamic system.
 

Yin is characterized as slow, soft, compliant, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and night time.
 

Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.
 

Yin and Yang are always in dynamic relation: when the one grows, the other one decreases. In all the natural cycles, Yin and Yang follow one another ceaselessly, as the day succeeds the night, the action the rest, the inspiration the expiration and so on.
 

In a healthy individual, the movements of Yin and Yang are harmonious. But as soon as one comes to weaken or to be lacking, the other one gets the upper hand and shows itself by its own symptoms.
 

A lack of Yang, for example, is decoded by a pale facial appearance, nervousness (paleness, coolness, languor being Yin characteristics).
 

It is also important to know that for the Traditional Chinese Medicine, organs and elements represent a phenomenon which exceed the only function recognized in our anatomy and our traditional thinking; that’s why they are written with a capital letter.
 

Five movements:  Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water

Five Phases, sometimes also translated as the "Five Elements" theory, presumes that all phenomena of the universe and nature can be broken down into five elemental qualities – represented by wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
 

Doesn’t matter what phenomenon it is, the alternation between Yin and Yang state is not immediately made, but is a constant process of transformation.
 

Each of those 5 movements possesses its own energy of growth or decrease and wears the name of an element. When a phenomenon leaves Yin to enter Yang, it is the movement of birth, of daybreak, spring, and awakening, identified by the Wood.
 

At the top of Yang, it is the entry to the adulthood (Fire). Then come maturity (Earth) and the ageing (Metal). With the death (Water), the phenomenon finds itself again in Yin.
 

5 movements give themselves life in a precise order, according to the principle of begetting: Water engenders Wood, which engenders Fire, which engenders Earth, which engenders Metal, which engenders Water.


 Five movements

Five movements

As for the principle of control, it works in the same logic, but not linearly: Water controls Fire, which controls  Metal, which controls  Wood, which controls Earth, which controls Water.
 

Strict rules are identified to apply to the relationships between the Five Phases in terms of sequence, of acting on each other, of counteraction etc. All these aspects of Five Phases theory constitute the basis of the zàng-fǔ concept, and thus have great influence regarding the TCM model of the body. Five Phase theory is also applied in diagnosis and therapy.
 

The theory of 5 movements also applies to the temperament of a person, to its appropriate behavioural dynamics. The temperaments Wood, for example, possess an expansive energy and are stimulated by challenge and action. They are fed by Water types, and are nourishing for Fire category, but enter easily in conflict with Earth and Metal.
 

As it is the case in any other system of temper classification, no individual corresponds to a pure nature but is a combination of each, in a particular balance, with more or less ascendancy.
 

So what is your "Chinese temperament"?  Are You Metal, Earth, Fire, Wood or Water?
 

Correspondences between the body and the universe have historically not only been seen in terms of the Five Elements, but also of the "Great Numbers".  For example, the number of acu-points has at times been seen to be 365, in correspondence with the number of days in a year; and the number of main meridians – 12 – has been seen in correspondence with the number of rivers flowing through the ancient Chinese empire.

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