Archive for the ‘History of Chinese Medicine’ Category
Feb 13, 2012
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a term that refers to medicine practices developed in China and other parts of Asia. Traditional Chinese Medicine generally covers many types of modalities including acupuncture and moxibustion, Chinese Herbal remedies, Tui Na or Chinese Medical Massage, as well as other manual therapies including gua sha (spoon massage or coining) and cupping.
In China, the term Chinese medicine (in Chinese it is called Zhong Yi 中医) often refers to the practice of Chinese herbal medicine. Although it can also refer to the entire practice of Chinese medicine. While acupuncture refers to acupuncture and moxibustion.
Some of these therapies are performed only by experienced physicians, such as prescribing complex herbal formulas or doing acupuncture. But others are considered more home remedies. This may include folk herbal remedies for common colds or manual therapies such as gua sha which can be used for nausea, car sickness, the common cold, and other common illnesses.
Common ideas in Chinese Medicine
While the therapies are diverse, done both by physician and family members, they all rest on the holistic view of the body and health that developed over 2000 years ago. A primary idea is that health is a state of balance in the body and between the body and the environment. The body has qi, energy, which flows through channel and meridians. Also, that environmental factors such as cold, heat, and dampness can cause illness. And these environmental factors represent certain illness within the body.
For example, if you have a cold, a physician may write an herbal prescription to release the heat to help you get rid of the cold. But the home remedy of gua sha spoon massage on the neck and upper back can also release the heat.
Chinese Medicine: An Evolution of Ideas
Many of the dominant concepts in Chinese medicine were discussed in the early books of the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classics as well as the Treatise on Cold Diseases. Although they referenced older works, they are no longer in existence. Over the years, physicians and scholars have debated these ideas evolving into the contemporary tradition of modern Chinese Medicine.
Yet, it is important to understand that Chinese medicine is an evolving tradition. These are not static concepts, but ideas that scholars, physicians and even individual family lineages have expanded on and explored. Chinese medicine has a strong tradition of writing, discussion, and debate. There is a great diversity of ideas. Through experience and training a Chinese Medicine practitioner will develop their own style.
For example, certain physicians believed that the best way to use Chinese medicine for psoriasis was to clear heat and toxins from the body. However, other physicians believed that psoriasis developed from internal cold and the body must be warmed. These debates continue today.
In fact, some of the significant therapeutic strategies of modern Chinese medicine physicians were not developed until recently. As I mentioned in my last post, the development of electro-acupuncture for pain was only developed within the last century, a relatively short time for the history of Chinese medicine.
Nov 29, 2011
“And when you do find one, observe with care…they almost always have crystals in their hearts.”
From Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
To understand Chinese medicine better, we also have to think about how acupuncture and Chinese medicine conceptualize and describe the body.
The Language of Acupuncture and Chinese medicine
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine is a comprehensive medical system with it own diagnosis and treatment. The terminology and language is also unique.
Sometimes, acupuncture language may sound a little magical. We may say that a headache is caused by liver qi stagnation in one person but in another person it may be from heat. Similarly, anxiety can come from heart blood vacuity but it also can be related to heat irritating the heart.
It is very important that the language and theory is consistent throughout the acupuncture diagnosis and treatment. In fact, if the wrong diagnosis is made, say heat instead of liver qi stagnation, the incorrect treatment will be used which can make the condition worse.
I like to think of these imbalances as metaphors describing the symptoms of your illness.
A Scholarly History
The causes and treatment of disease have been debated, discussed, and experimented with by clinicians and scholars throughout the more than 2500 years of Chinese medicine history.
They have evolved, as historian Paul Unschuld has written, into a system of medical correspondences. These debates still continue today about the best methods to approach and treat different diseases.
Health in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine view health as a state of balance in the body, as well as balance within the enviornment.
Some of the most common imbalances pertain to the body’s energy, or qi. The qi can be too little, what we call qi vacuity, or it may not circulate as it should, called qi stagnation.
Other imbalances coorespond to the enviornment. Cold, heat, dryness, and wind can all cause diseases.
The Body Acupuncture
Acupuncture visualizes the body as a complex interconnected web. Meridians travelling throughout the body, connecting the surface to the interior, the upper body with the lower body.
The body’s energy circulates freely. If there is too little energy or if the energy gets stuck, imbalances occur. A build up of any imbalance, heat, cold, stagnation, or others leads to developing into an illness.
To correct the imbalance, we use acupuncture points and treatment methods specific to your imbalance.
For example, a headache from liver qi stagnation, we could use the acupuncture points LI 4, Liver 3, and Liver 14. But if it is from heat, we may choose Liver 2, Gallbladder 34, and San Jiao 5.
Sep 23, 2009
This is the 4th is a series explaining acupuncture and Chinese medicine theory and background.
How is acupuncture more than just acupuncture?
Acupuncture is one of the most powerful and versatile therapies in Chinese medicine, but it is not the only one. Acupuncturists use many techniques of Traditional East Asian Medicine.
Moxabustion is the burning of an herb call mugwort, ai ye in Chinese, close to specific acupuncture points or on the needle itself. It is used to warm and add energy to the acupuncture point. It also is good for moving stagnation.
Moxibustion is central to acupuncture treatment, the word for moxibustion is actually in the Chinese for acupuncture- zhen jiu. Zhen means needle, and jiu is refering to moxibustion.
Gua sha is the rubbing of a coin or a spoon on the skin. Often it is done on the upper and lower back, neck, and the ribs. It is a long time home remedy which is used for colds and fever, nausea, muscle aches and pain, as well as inhibited urination.
Often gua sha will break the blood vessels below the skin causing a bruise. In Chinese medicine we say this breaks blood stagnation and releases heat. Interestingly, if there is not too much heat present, or there is no blood stagnation, it does not create a bruise.
Cupping works in conjunction with acupuncture to relax muscles and increase circulation. During this therapy, glass, wooden, or plastic cups are applied to the skin. The inside of the cup is depressurized with a flame or a vacuum, so it then lifts up the skin below it.
This often leaves round bruises, which are mostly painless. It helps to relax the muscles and increase circulation. For more reading on cupping, I recommend this article at the Institute for Traditional Medicine.
Read More in this Series:
- The Theory Behind Acupuncture
- Acupuncture Stimulates The Brain to Heal Itself
- Acupuncture Channels and Points
Mar 26, 2009
The birth of the Chinese medicine tradition, which has carried on till today, occurred when the Chinese developed the viewpoint that disease is caused by forces in the natural world rather than spiritual forces. And through the healthy choices, we can influence our own health. This post is based upon ideas from Paul Unschuld’s fabulous book, Medicine in China.
Originally, disease theory in China was based upon a shamanistic view that illness was caused by evil spirits. The first record we have of healers in China dates back to the Shang dynasty. The religion of the day was ancestor worship. They believed the living and the dead lived side by side. The living worked hard to worship and please their ancestors. If not, one’s dead relatives will seek revenge, causing every tragedy known to man, including illnesses.
In order to pacify their ancestor’s wrath, people would follow extensive rituals of praise and sacrifice. If someone became sick, they would hire a Shaman who interpreted oracles and communicated with the dead in order to appease one’s ancestors. During later tumultuous political times, these benevolent ancestors transformed into demons, who were only controlled through the Shamen.
Personal responsibility, nor any means of physical treatment, were not considered factors for good health.
Later, in the Qin and Han dynasties, we see a change in the dominant Chinese world view. During this time, the Chinese were gaining control of their surroundings, the feudal wars were concluded, and a united Chinese government emerged. Many naturalistic philosophies developed based upon the balance of the universe, such as the yin-yang and five phase theory.
Confucianism also developed during this period which strongly espoused a code of ethics based on propriety, ritual, and hierarchy. Each individual within society, from the peasant farmer to the king, has a specific role to fulfill, and if everybody fulfilled these roles, society would function well.
Much of Chinese medicine which is still used today developed during this time period. Instead of demons or ancestors causing illness, the pathogenic influences from the natural world (wind, dampness, heat, dryness) or imbalances within the individuals result in disease. Health was maintained by a proper balance of yin and yang and the five phases within the body.
These ideas lead to the use of preventative medicine. Measures such as staying out of the cold and wind and practicing moderation were utilized. In cases of illness, physicians developed treatments using herbs, acupuncture, and massage.
In certain ways, we are seeing a similar pattern happening in modern medicine. The idea that good habits and preventative medicine can help you live longer and better are becoming popular. The old ideas that you have no control over your own health are dying.
Now we are turning back towards ideas that Chinese Medicine developed over 2000 years ago. Physicians and patients are looking towards holistic techniques in healing and now believe you can actively improve your own health.
Photo: Library of Congress