The Foundation of East Asian Medicine
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the very definition of the word "holistic". The body and all of its organs, fluids, biological systems, react to your lifestyle and outside stimuli. Everything is influenced and powered by Qi. This vital energy is responsible for the way we move, operate, function, heal, feel, act, and see the world. TCM is ultimately depicted as Qi, hence the overarching theme of holism.
阴阳 YIN YANG
The foundation of all things in TCM and east Asian philosophy is YIN-YANG, a concept that's both elemental and complex at the same time.
“Yin Yang” sometimes gets translated as lightness and darkness, however it is more than that. If that is true, one might conclude that we want more light than dark, assuming that the dark side is negative. In TCM, we strive to achieve an adaptable balance of both energies for an ideal state of harmonized being.
Yin, the dark side of the classic symbol, the shady side of the mountain, is known as our feminine energy. It’s dark, passive, cool, reserved, peaceful, and heavy. Meanwhile, Yang, the sunny side, is our masculine energy. It is bright, active, warm, expansive, dynamic, and light.
While opposite, Yin and Yang do not exist independently of one another. Day cannot exist without the night, rest cannot exist without a period of wakefulness. These complementary forces pervade not only the human body, but our physical and spiritual realms, as well. We embody both energies at any and all times, however, we can experience a breakdown of our Yin and Yang equilibrium. This is where TCM comes in.
五行 FIVE ELEMENTS
Another way that TCM understands and breaks down Qi in order to draw a direct correlation between us and that of our natural world, is the Five Elements Theory. This draws on different elements in nature and the life force that likewise flows through them. While these elements are individual, we embody them all,
and that is what creates this earthly balance.
Ancient Chinese philosophers looked to nature to find ways of understanding how we as natural beings are all similar to each other as well as the earth, and it was broken down into these five basic elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These elements play a vital role in much of Eastern thought, especially TCM, because they can help determine where we are out of balance.
The 5 elements apply to foods, herbal remedies, and other treatment plans, as they are used to diagnose specific components of imbalance. These elements can correlate to specific organs, or even specific mental states to help dictate a treatment plan that can strengthen a weak element, or sedate an excessive element in order to restore balance in the body, mind, and skin.
Organs: Liver & Gallbladder
Organs: Heart & Small Intestines
Season: Late summer
Organs: Spleen & Stomach
Organs: Lung and Large Intestine
Organs: Kidney & Urinary Bladder
Qi is not just the “energy” that all things, living or inanimate, possess. Of course, that’s a major part of it, but when we think of energy, we think of something added to a being or object, rather than the essence of its core— the phenomena of feeling that something—or someone—gives off inherently, without any effort. We cannot be separated from our Qi as different entities, and it is impossible to take the two apart and dissect them as so. Qi is that vibrant cusp of life between physical substance and the energy it holds; the energetic thread connecting all that exists.
Because of its volatile state of existing and constantly interacting with other matter, Qi is subject to change from any outside force or influence (but is not itself the cause of change).
Blood in TCM is more than just the red fluid that courses within our vessels. It’s definition is dynamic, blood is also the nutritive input and how this input is transformed by our bodies.
The role of Blood’s is to circulate, nourish, hydrate, and maintain our body not just via blood vessels and veins, but also through each meridian — giving context to different areas and their Qi throughout the body when broken down — to inform the whole. The function of blood is more important than its literal, physiological pathways in TCM.
While blood and Qi are completely different, they have a cyclical, symbiotic relationship. Qi creates and moves the blood, and while on its journey propelled by Qi, blood nourishes the organs that produce and balance Qi. It’s a perfect example of the Yin and Yang relationship— the very act of being opposing forces makes them dependent on each other for existence. Blood is considered Yin, while Qi can be thought of as Yang in comparison.
We’ve all heard in Western medicine that the human body is roughly 60% water, and that rings true in TCM— including the blood. However, in Chinese Medicine, what we refer to as fluids are all other fluids except blood in the body. Think saliva, sweat, gastric juices, urine. Lighter, more clear fluids are jin, and thicker, opaque fluids are ye.
Fluids are an essential part of our makeup, despite being considered less vital than our Qi, blood, or spirit, and we nourish them and deplete them via our food and lifestyle choices. Fluids help to make up our blood, but besides that relationship and besides being a vital part of our physiological being, they are considered less potently nourishing than blood. Our fluids help to hydrate and nurture all aspects of our body and organs— think of it like a lubricant for a machine. A rusty machine operates, but a well-oiled machine flourishes.
Fluids are a more literal component of the body in TCM, which draws some comparisons with our Western understanding. We replenish our fluids from the food and liquids we consume, however, our fluids are regulated rather by the Qi of corresponding organs rather than the organs themselves, such as the kidneys. This is where the concept of TCM comes in—one in which we cannot separate the entities but must think of them holistically. The fluids depend on the Qi, and in turn, the Qi depends on the fluids to hydrate and deliver nutrients to the organs that regulate Qi.