This entry is the last in a series of articles discussing the concept of the Tao and it’s relevance to the practise and philosophy of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). For those of you that are interested, I wrote about the Tao and it’s symbolism here, and it’s relation to health and TCM here. Today, I will discuss the validity of TCM as it applies to acupuncture theory, health, and surprisingly – culture!
Recall that the body’s organs are typified as either Yin or Yang, according to their action and location in the body. It is also interesting to note that these organs typically work in “pairs” inside of the system of the body (for example, the liver and the gallbladder are connected as Zang – Fu organs). Zang refers to organs that store life giving substances (they have Yin energy) and Fu refers to hollow organs that interact with the environment (Yang energy). In this case, the liver is the Zang organ and the gallbladder is the Fu organ and the pair function to circulate and move blood.
There are, of course, other Zang Fu pairs within the body (Kidney-Bladder, Spleen-Stomach, Lung-Large Intestine, Heart-Small Intestine, Pericardium-Triple Burner). Now, our Western thought processes can certainly rationalise some of these pairings, but wait, what is this Triple Burner thingie?! Good question. Now, we are referring back to the alchemical principles of TCM. The Triple Burner (obviously!) has no Western medical equivalent, but it is perceived to be a sort of internal axis (combustion engine) that moves Qi and fluids from above (Lungs, in particular) to below (Kidneys). I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s suffice to say that a fine balance and harmony is required to keep the entire bodily system chugging along smoothly.
So now that I have confused you with a tidbit of TCM physiology, what scientific evidence do we have to suggest that any of this is plausible? The answer to that lies on and in your skin (and within your nervous system). Trigger points are areas of the body that correspond with about 70% of the known TCM acupuncture points. These areas are made to be found! The skin overlying these areas is thinner and more sensitive. These points may even twitch when irritated, thus encouraging their owner (ahem…that would be “you”!) to rub them! Here’s an experiment to humour yourself with – place your right hand in front of you and gently place pressure in the web of your fingers between your thumb and index finger just in front of your thumb-joint (you are now stimulating the approximate area of Large Intestine 4!). This is a wonderful point that is great for general well-being, gives you an endorphin release and can help moderate many ailments (headache, neck pain, abdominal pain just to name a few).
Ancient humans have known this secret for milennia! Otzi, the ancient Tyrolian mountain-climber (circa 3300 BC!) had a variety of tattoos placed over various trigger points on his body that corresponded to actual pathology that had been confirmed by scientists (arthritis etc.). The most interesting thing about this “acupuncture hypothesis” is that Otzi (and presumably, his clan) presented evidence of early acupuncture practise a few thousand years before it was documented by the Chinese (suggesting that the practise of acupuncture arose spontaneously amongst a variety of cultures – including non-Asian cultures many thousands of years ago). Rather intriguing to say the least.
Today, modern acupuncture is a complementary therapy that is slowly integrating it’s way into the health and well-being plans of many patients. Increasingly more clinical studies are being performed to support it’s usefulness in a variety of cases (especially in the realm of pain management). I say “complementary”, because there are certainly limitations to any one form or modality of healing and this must be considered in the best interests of the patient. The theory of TCM helps open-minded practitioners of Western medicine to “think outside the box” when treating dis-ease (which is a very well organised process according to TCM philosophy). It helps practitioners view the body as an ecological system that requires harmony and balance to function properly. With TCM, organs are “facilitated” and systems are opened. Qi and energy movement, balance and harmony are re-established (with a proper TCM diagnosis) and the body can “re-wire itself”, thus promoting better health. I would like to think that TCM is a nice way of “helping the body to help itself” (as opposed to fighting it solely with Western medical practices). Practitioners of modern medicine have much to gain by engaging a TCM practitioner in the health and wellness plan of their patients.
I hope that a few of you have found this information useful. I am forever intrigued by the parallels between TCM and other theories (alchemical, osteopathic) as I journey along my healthful and spiritual path.
Namaste and Good Health to you all.