Traditional Chinese Medicine Revealed

by Blue Lam, Apr 22, 2001 | Destinations: China / Beijing

Speak of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the image of exotic healing formulas passed down generation after generation comes into mind. Whether it really worked was a matter of great debate between the believers and the skeptics. However, the Chinese way of medicinal healing has come a long way, with the practitioners increasingly recognized as physicians in their own right. Traditional Chinese Medicine (known as TCM internationally) has become, along with other native forms of healing, a very viable alternative to the Western branch of medicine.

In Singapore, TCM physicians have to pass stringent examinations from the Chinese Physicians' Training College before they are accorded official licenses to practice. This has helped to build the professional image of the field, and TCM has become popular with Chinese and non-Chinese alike.

But just what is this branch of medicine about? How is it different from the way Western doctors heal? To understand the workings of TCM, let us take a peek at the fundamental guiding principle of TCM - yin and yang.

Yin, Yang and Traditional Chinese Medicine

One theory explains the TCM treating approach - that of balancing the system in our bodies. TCM physicians see the human body in accordance to the laws of yin and yang. These two forces are actually the fundamental energy fields making up the universe, and they co-exist in all things living and non-living. Yang is active, and is commonly associated with light, heat, and energetic movements. Yin is the direct opposite - it is dark, cold and inactive. Both forces are locked in perpetual opposition, yet each cannot exist without the other. The interaction between yin and yang thus ebbs and wanes continuously as each strives to be the dominant party.

And of course, the forces of yin and yang exist in our bodies too. All organs in the body are affected by the laws of yin and yang, as does the relationship between our bodies and the external environment.

Linking yin, yang, and the human body

To understand how yin and yang work in our body, we must adopt the TCM method of perceiving our physiognomy. The human body is always understood as a single and unified system. All our organs are connected and they co-exist in an inseparable network. Hence, should any part of the body, such as the breathing or the digestive system, be diseased, the rest of the body will fall ill too.

Thus, TCM physicians will not aim to restore your well being by targeting viruses in your body - instead, they try to restore the natural balance that has been upset in your system. So, while their Western counterparts try to rid the body of viruses for a cure, TCM heals by re-establishing the equilibrium of yin and yang in your body.

Why do we fall sick?

TCM practitioners believe that there are two reasons why we become ill. Firstly, our body's system may have been thrown off balance by internal factors, such as poor blood circulation stemming from insufficient nutrient intake.

Otherwise, we may not feel well because the harmony between our bodies and our external environment has been disrupted. In the same way our organs are linked together, we share that intimate relationship with our surroundings too. External factors such as changes in weather and germs can throw the yin and yang in our bodies off balance too.

Diagnosing your condition

Your body is classified in a unique way in TCM. By thoroughly examining your body, a TCM physician is able to tell which of the main categories of "cold", "cool", "warm" and "hot" your body type falls under.

If your body type leans towards the "cool" category and you are suffering from a cold because of too much dampness in your system, you are falling ill as a result of overpowering yin in your body. Yin is the force of the cold, remember? And how can the TCM physician make you well again? By balancing your system, of course. According to TCM theory, medication has characteristics of "cold", "cool", "warm" and "hot" too. Therefore, the physician will prescribe herbs belonging to the "warm" or "hot" groups in order to enforce the yang, and balance the yin, in your physiognomy.

TCM treatment

It is in the method of diagnosis and treatment that TCM varies the greatest from Western medicine. To summarise, Western medicine treats diseases - that is, you are given medication according to the sickness you are inflicted with. TCM, on the other hand, attempts to heal by treating symptoms. By focusing on symptoms, what is defined as different illnesses in Western medicine may be treated the same way in TCM. Let me illustrate:

Let's say two patients are afflicted with the common condition of cough. One patient may be suffering because of the ingestion of too much food from the "hot" category, hence making his body too "hot" with excessive yang. The other person may have fallen ill as a result of the entry of "cool dampness" into his body, and is thus ill because of overpowering yin in his system.

As a result, both patients, although they are suffering from the "same" ailment of cough, may be prescribed totally different medication altogether because they demonstrate dissimilar symptoms. The TCM physician has thus healed by counteracting the imbalance.

In another example, folks inflicted with seemingly different conditions of indigestion and urinary problems may share the same prescription because their symptoms are diagnosed as similar.

With the need for a good understanding of your body type to ensure the ingestion of correct prescriptions, you are not encouraged to come up with recipes and healing formulas on your own without the consultation of a recognized TCM physician.

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Well, now that you are armed with a basic knowledge of how TCM works, you may be interested in finding out more about the field and how it can help to increase your well being. The web and good bookstores are always excellent sources of information. Some websites worth an exploration include:

Traditional Chinese Medicine . The articles offered here are relatively easy reads, so they are great as a platform for the uninitiated to learn more about the history of TCM, acupuncture, and healing methods, etc. . This website has a comprehensive collection of articles on herbs, forms of healing, and TCM theories. It's best to explore this site after you are comfortable with the basics of TCM because there are a lot more details here!

Traditional Chinese Medicine Links. Check out this site for links to TCM courses and web pages in the United States, and other parts of the world.

Alternatively, you can pay a visit to a licensed TCM practitioner in your neighbourhood. There are numerous TCM clinics and practitioners in Singapore, but the main body in charge of the field here is the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Training College (established by the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association) at:
640, Toa Payoh Lorong 4, Singapore 319522.
Tel: 65 - 250 3088
Fax: 65 - 356 9901

The Chung Hwa Free Clinic is one of the well-established local TCM clinics. Surf on to its official website to know the locations of the various branches.

But before you accept any treatment, be sure to understand the nature of your physiognomy first, and always ensure that all herbs meant for ingestion have been prepared carefully and hygienically!