I am often asked by patients, friends and acquaintances whether or not I think traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can help them with their problem. My answer is always a resounding yes. Help comes in many forms and many levels, and TCM offers health rewards in abundance. Here is how TCM can help you and why you should look into it.
To begin, traditional Chinese medicine offers, as its foundation, the promise of homeostasis. That is the understanding that the body wishes to exist in balance, that only imbalance causes pain, illness and disease, and that uncovering and balancing the imbalance is the only way to truly “cure” one’s self of anything.
Did you every wonder why ibuprofen worked for your pain yesterday but today it seems to do nothing? Have you ever wondered why sometimes you get headaches at the front of your head, while at other times it’s on top or on the sides of the head? Why last month your pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) had you buckled over with cramps yet this month there is little cramping but lots of headache pain?
That is because the imbalances in your body are different at different times, and pain and illness are born out of those imbalances. Thus, taking the same medicine for a frontal headache as one at the base of the skull is nonsensical. Treating PMS this month the same as you did last month, even though the symptoms are different, just doesn’t add up. And when you do find relief it’s only temporary and the problem comes back another day.
TCM can help you with this. Actually, knowledge of TCM theories or an examination at the hands of a qualified practitioner can help you. This branch of medicine helps by identifying the specific imbalances in your body that are allowing the health symptoms to exist. Once the imbalances are identified they are viewed and understood as a pattern. And these patterns have different signs and symptoms attached to them. What’s more, the methods used to balance the pattern of imbalance are different. And it is these specific pattern-identifiable methods that will eradicate the health concern.
You might think it is difficult, in the throws of innumerable signs and symptoms that have persisted over many years or decades, to be able to identify a pattern. I often hear the following: “I have no pattern. I watch my health and there is no pattern of why or when the symptom arises, like when it rains or I don’t get enough sleep.”
That’s not the type of pattern I am speaking of here.
For TCM, pattern means a grouping of signs and symptoms that are matched with the patient’s specific pulse and tongue geography, skin tone and complexion, etc. It’s like opening the cupboard and finding crackers, soup cans, tuna and cereal, and opening the refrigerator and finding salami, milk, mayonnaise, bread, celery, mustard and butter.
The untrained eye would say there are a lot of unrelated things. The trained eye would see a complete recipe (pattern) for a tuna salad sandwich and soup and crackers amongst the clutter. TCM practitioners are trained to identify patterns of imbalance from the clutter of signs and symptoms.
Once the pattern is identified the practitioner can be certain of the underlying cause of the health symptoms, be they hemorrhoids, osteoporosis, insomnia or PMS. Once a pattern is discerned the signs and symptoms are intellectually set aside and focus is placed on what is needed to balance the imbalance, to return the body to homeostasis. That is, to make the body healthy.
Methods of healing are then prescribed such as medicated diet therapy (knowing which foods to eat and which to avoid to help the situation); Qigong energy work (self-regulating exercises and clinically administered treatments) to balance energy in the body; herbal therapy in the form of teas and pills to balance organs, blood and fluids, resolve masses and remove obstructions from the body; stretching and strengthening exercises to correct somatic imbalances that cause pain; mind/body exercises to quiet the mind, center the spirit, induce the relaxation response, reduce stress and so on.
The main things TCM can help you with are identifying what environment within your body is allowing ill health to remain there, and what you can do specifically and synergistically to return the body to homeostasis and live at optimal health.
Yes, the theories and concepts of traditional Chinese medicine are foreign and seem odd to Westerners. Yes, it takes an open mind to listen to a practitioner of these healing systems tell you about your health in terms you may not understand.
However, if you allow yourself to listen and then do research based on what you are told, you may find that the seemingly strange-sounding syndromes espoused in TCM are actually simple paradigms of health that can be shifted and resolved toward better health.
—Dr. Mark Wiley