Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, and Martial Arts in Richmond Virginia

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Like any system, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a logical means of describing what it treats-namely, the human body and its disorders. And while the TCM outlook differs from the modern scientific view, they are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are two different methods of evaluating the same thing, just as the metric system and English system measure distance, volume, and mass differently.

However, unlike Western medicine, which uses anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences to objectively explain bodily processes and disease, TCM uses subjective observation of signs and symptoms to evaluate the relative state of a patientís health. Despite this subjectivity-defined by the practitioner's experience and the patient's own medical history-- the interaction between varying bodily processes follows a 5000-year old logical framework that mirrors the interactions of the natural world.

Indeed, TCM views the body as a microcosm of the universe. Harmony in the world comes from the correct balance, movement, and interaction of yin and yang, five elements, and vital substances. Likewise, the human body achieves a state of health through the balance and interaction of the same things.

Yin and Yang
The symbol for yin and yang
Many people are familiar with the concept of Yin and Yang as the concept of mutually creating and transforming opposites. Given its widespread nature, Yin and Yang can describe virtually every bodily characteristic and process. For example, heat is considered Yang, cold is considered Yin; when they are out of balance-- say, with either excessive heat or weak cold-- fever or hot flashes may occur. Or, dryness is yang in nature, while wetness is Yin in nature; when dryness is excessive with relation to wetness, we get cracked skin and lips, brittle hair, and thirst.

Further, outside of their adjectival role of characterizing the body, Yin and Yang are also seen as "vital substances." Active, functional aspects of the body belong to yang, while the physical, substantial aspects belong to yin.

Qi and Blood
The character for Qi
Qi (chee) and Blood are also considered to be vital substances. While people often see Qi as simply being one's life energy, it actually has several definitions and aspects. You are born with a set amount of "original" Qi"; you supplement that with "food" Qi-- the essences drawn from what you eat; and "air" Qi-- the nutrients drawn from what we breathe. Altogether, these three types of Qi comprise "true" Qi- the concept of life force. "True" Qi goes in part to the "Defensive" Qi that protects your body from outside sicknesses; and the "nutritive" Qi ensures the sufficient nourishing of your body. Finally, all of your organs have a Qi aspect to them, which relates to the relative health of their functions. Therefore, when we say that someone's "Qi is weak," we may be saying that certain bodily processes are not functioning the way they should be; or, we might be referring to a lack of physical energy. To maintain good health, Qi should be sufficient and flowing smoothly inside the meridians - a network of invisible pathways that connect all of our various organs and tissues. Blood, which is considered to be the material manifestation of Qi, must also be sufficient and flowing smoothly inside of our blood vessels.

Five Elements
The five element cycle starts with fire at the top, and goes clockwise to earth, metal, water, then wood.
In addition to Yin, Yang, Qi, and Blood, another foundation of TCM is the concept of the five elements: earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. Everything physical and functional aspect of the world relates to one of these elements, and interacts according to set patterns and interactions. In the creation cycle of the five elements, earth generates metal, metal generates water, water supports wood, wood gives rise to fire. Similarly, in the control cycle, earth controls water, water smothers fire, fire tempers metal, metal subdues wood, and wood roots earth. This harmonious interaction of the universe takes place in the human body, as well. Different colors, tissues, sense organs, sounds, smells, and tastes in the body manifest as different elements. A weakness in one element destroys that harmony, setting off a chain of imbalances that ultimately affect one's health. For example, when water is weak, it can no longer nourish wood, and allows fire to blaze out of control.

The five elements strongly correlate to our many organ systems, of which the Chinese had an amazing understanding, thousands of years before Western science started to begin to comprehend what each organ did. It is important to note that the TCM point of view is that an organ does not necessarily represent the physical organ itself, but rather a collection of functions-some of which have little bearing on modern knowledge of physiology. Through observation, the ancient Chinese had an empirical understanding of what the heart, spleen, liver, kidneys, and lungs did, as well as these organs' interrelation with the corresponding circulatory, digestive, endocrine, and respiratory systems. And while they did not have the theoretical tools or modern technology to discuss the biochemical reactions of these organs, they were pretty clear as to what their functions were within the framework of Yin and Yang, Qi and Blood, and the five elements.

All of these ideas give us a picture of how the human body operates outside of the Western scientific paradigm. Unlike Western medicine, which oftentimes isolates a disease from the rest of the body, Chinese medicine is a holistic system, which sees the body as a sum of material and interactions. Yet despite these conflicting approaches, neither way is mutually exclusive-they are simply different ways of describing the same thing.

Does Chinese Medicine repudiate Western Medicine?
Not at all. Both systems are ways of different ways of looking at the human body. They are not mutually contradictory.

Is Chinese Medicine better than Western Medicine?
It is all relative. Western Medicine recognizes and treats problems that Chinese Medicine does not, and vice versa. For a given disease, one may work better than the other. For example, Chinese medicine works wonders for many gynecological disorders such as PMS, menstruation regulation, and peri-menopause. However, it cannot remove Ovarian tumors. The current trend is toward integration.

Are Medical Doctors or Chiropractors better at Chinese Medicine?
It depends on each individual. However, the 200-hour acupuncture course requirement for MDs and DCs in Virginia pales in comparison to the nearly 3,000 hour programs provided by TCM schools around the nation; which in turn is minor compared to the five-year intensive programs in China and Japan.