This is a continuation of my first post located entitled The Tao. In this post, I will discuss the relevance of the concept of Tao and it’s metaphorical relationship to health as defined by the practise and philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
I ended that post with a quote from the Nai Jing:
“The Sage stands facing South” – Nai Jing
The meaning of this quote is best demonstrated by a few examples from nature. Take horses for example – during times of inclement and stormy weather, they not only band together in a group to shelter themselves from the elements, they stand with their buttocks to the driving wind. Lizards too, will bask on rocks during times of warmth. These creatures have evolved to make efficient use of their environment to maintain homeostasis (balanced organismal state) as part of their speciation. These adaptations maximize the organism’s ability to remain healthy and survive in harmony with the environment, and conserve and maximise resources as they do so (the horses are conserving energy and body heat during periods of inclement weather, and the lizard is soaking up energy and warmth from the sun when the conditions are favourable). I suppose that these behaviours have been incorporated into the organism’s biology (DNA) and speciation as a result of their success in helping the organism to survive.
So, how does this relate to health and TCM? Essentially, the practise of TCM is best described as a combination of the following three practises: acupuncture, chinese herbals and Qi Gong in a manner accordant with Taoist principles of natural harmony. This definition is rather simplistic, but it should fit the discussion for our purposes. Thus, the quote “The Sage stands facing South” describes, rather metaphorically, the ideal situation in the case of health. In health, a person is in synch with their environment. The body, due to it’s inherent biology and synchronicity with nature (because “we” are a form of nature!), performs well when conditions (environment, mental/emotional health, nutrients, energy) are moderate or balanced. Many diseases are a result of deficiency or excess (too much warmth or Yin, or too much cold or Yang). A deficiency of either Yin or Yang throws the system off balance (remember the fine tuning of harmony demonstrated by the Tao symbol?). In addition, ageing itself, is also a destructive (but inevitable) part of our body’s ecology and health with the loss of Essence (essence essentially refers to hormones).
How can a practitioner of TCM assist you in reaching a more healthful balanced state? Practioners of TCM (at least in Canada) have at least three years of training in the principles and practice of the three practices (acupuncture, herbs and Qi Gong). An additional year of study (an internship) is required if the person would like to become a Doctor of TCM. A TCM practitioner will evaluate you in a unique way. You will be asked about your previous history, and a physical exam performed (attention payed to your general physical state, emotional/mental state, tongue colour/condition, pulse diagnosis). A practitioner will then evaluate your body’s systems and perform a trigger point analysis (they may use a point finder to establish areas on your body’s meridians where you are sensitive, thus indicating particular problems with certain organ systems – or they may simply use their hands to feel this energy). The discussion of meridians is a long one, but those interested in the details can look it up (superficially) here. Essentially, meridians are energy pathways between various interconnected organs that allow movement of Qi (the organs themselves are either Yin or Yang and their operation requires harmony and balance within the system of the whole body). The key is ensure that Qi can flow in a harmonious way amongst these organs in a harmonious fashion. Now, can you start to see the metaphorical, multiplicity demonstrated by the Tao symbol as it applies to health?
In my next post, I will discuss the evidence (historical and modern) for TCM practise. Much controversy exists as to whether acupuncture trigger points or meridians exist [skeptics criticise the philosophy of practise as being too reductionist] and I will try to present this information in light of scientific and clinical evidence that supports the practise of TCM (acupuncture in particular). I will also discuss the inherent limitations of this type of complementary medical practise.
After all, if we are to truly understand or study TCM, shouldn’t we approach it with a balanced perspective (East vs. West, belief vs. skepticism, intuitive vs. rational, etc.)?