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How Much Do You Know About Traditional Oriental Medicine?
By Margaret Thompson-Choi, L.Ac., Dipl. OM
Oriental medicine (which has its roots in China, Japan, and Korea) has benefited millions of people over thousands of years with a focus on bringing balance by treating the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. Below are fundamental concepts that on the surface may seem poetically simplistic, but are the basis of powerful healing that is now being proven with modern research.
Although the interpretation of disease and diagnosis in Traditional Oriental Medicine can be very complicated, they are based on the elegant simplicity of the unity/duality of yin and yang. This can be likened to the binary code that is the basis of highly complex computer programs. Yin represents female, dark, quiet, moisture, and inactivity. Yang symbolizes things such as male, light, noise, dryness, and activity. Yin and Yang are polar opposites, but as seen in the well-known Taiji (yin-yang) symbol, they come together to make a unified whole, representing a perfect circle of life. In the symbol, the black yin half holds the seed of the white yang inside, just as the white yang contains the seed of the black yin. As it traverses the circle towards the top, the black yin slowly recedes into the ever-increasing white yang, and the yang merges into black yin at the bottom of the circle. Yin and yang are constantly producing, while simultaneously constantly consuming each other. One could not exist without the other.
Another fundamental concept in oriental medicine is qi, or “vital energy,” the foundation of life, that flows through every living thing from plants to humans. In fact, the two major ways a person is able to receive and produce qi is through the foods that are consumed and the air that is breathed in. Because of this, it is important to consume, the freshest, high-quality, unprocessed food from which the maximum level of qi can be obtained. Improving lung capacity through physical or breathing exercises and avoiding a polluted environment as much as possible are also important for optimum lung qi.
Energy Meridians & Acupuncture
Meridians are passageways through which qi circulates. The ancient Chinese likened them to a water channel system. The 12 main meridians are named after corresponding organs in the body, such as the stomach. Most meridians run from head to toe as well as through their respective organs. The 12 main meridians have subsidiary branches, so there are actually hundreds of meridians running throughout the body, and all are of them are connected in intricate ways. This interconnectedness explains why your acupuncturist may needle your big toe when you complain of a headache.
When the smooth flow of qi gets disrupted or “stuck” in the meridians due to emotional things like stress or anger or physical things like trauma or overeating, disease or pain can follow. This is where the various modalities of oriental medicine come in. Inserting acupuncture needles into the meridians at specific points can help aid the smooth flow of qi and blood circulation, restoring the body’s homeostasis. A similar effect is achieved with herbs, qi gong (energy and breathing movement), and oriental therapeutic massage.
An integral part of oriental medicine is recognizing how the body operates as a whole, realizing that mind, body, and spirit influence and affect each other. In Oriental Medicine, the heart is the residence of the spirit, or shen. (Many acupuncture points have the word “spirit” in the name such as spirit gate, spirit court, and root spirit. If there is a physical problem, such as a blood deficiency, the spirit becomes rootless, according to Oriental Medical theory, and is allowed to “float away” from its home in the heart. This can cause physical manifestations such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, and heart palpitations. By using Oriental Medicine modalities to nourish the physical body, the mind and spirit can also be nourished, and vise versa. One of the most common acupuncture points used to calm the spirit, yin tang, is located just between the eyebrows.
Oriental medicine has benefited millions of people over thousands of years with a focus on bringing balance by treating the whole person—body, mind, and spirit.
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