TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
By Gystilyn O’Brien
IS CHINESE MEDICINE FOR ME?
The overall concept of acupuncture is to ensure that Qi (chi), the natural flow of energy through the body, can move freely. Acupuncture is a method of Eastern medicine that takes a preventative approach towards health. It’s culturally normal to visit a practitioner regularly and to integrate certain foods and practices into the daily life to ensure that the system, as a whole, is working in an optimum fashion. This is typically called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Anyone can attend acupuncture or TCM sessions, regardless of ailments. In Chinese culture, it would be as usual as going grocery shopping.
The study of the flow of Qi in the body is roughly 3,000 years old and originates in China. Qi translates roughly to ‘breath’ in Chinese and represents the concept of life force, that energy which animates our bodies. Many cultures believe in life-force including Hindu (prana), Japanese (ki), and Hawaiian (mana). The idea is that through attention (meditation), breathing, and proper care, the body’s Qi can be balanced to achieve health and vitality.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as a whole, makes a study of the improvement of Qi. A practitioner will examine the body and evaluate problem spots based on complaints, skin, wrinkles, bumps on the tongue, and the colour of the eyes. TCM observes that underlying organ stress will show physical signs of ailment in minor ways. A practitioner may then instruct you to include in your daily activities various teas, types of food to be ingested at certain hours, breathing techniques, and stretches that will help bring your body into alignment. TCM often follows Chinese astrology, meaning that the time of day you breathe or drink tea may have an effect on Qi’s ability to move freely. By applying these systems to daily life your Qi is kept in optimum flow, reducing the stress on your body and organs, thus ensuring that illness never has a chance to take root.
Acupuncture is a practitioner-based, hands-on approach to moving Qi. Where most other forms of Eastern healing can be done at home, acupuncture is more of a science, and it requires a great deal of study to be able to practise successfully. Based on The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, written around the 15th century during the rule of the Ming Dynasty, the book outlines the 12 main channels (meridians) which movement of energy flows between organs creating a symbiotic whole system. These meridians are not necessarily synonymous with blood flow and realistically have more to do with the nervous system pathways. The book outlines 365 points where applying pressure to the body can affect Qi flowing through the 12 meridians. Acupuncture applies hair-thin needles, a process which is usually quite painless, to any selection of these 365 points to positively affect the flow of energy.
Acupressure, cupping, and massage are also forms of TCM that can create similar effects. Acupressure is typically done to the ears by placing tiny seeds against pressure points and holding them there with tape. The idea is that all the organs are represented in the ears, hands, and feet. Cupping takes glass jars that have been held over a candle and then placed on the back. The heat (warm, not hot) pulls the skin of the back up into the cup, thus pulling the muscles to sit differently for a short period. Massage also manipulates the muscles, and in TCM is called Tui Na or An Mo, and focuses on pressing into the same meridian points in a similar way to acupuncture and acupressure.
CAN I TREAT MY CONDITION?
While acupuncture is not an exact science, a great deal of research has been done to discover whether acupuncture is effective. Hundreds of clinical studies have shown success in treating a variety of illnesses, including arthritis, and improving outcomes following a stroke.
From personal experience, I can report that on the occasion I damaged my back my practitioner had me up and moving in less than two hours, where before I couldn’t stand. On a separate occasion I was convinced I had torn the medial meniscus in my right knee, and after a two-hour session was up and walking. A week later, and after two more sessions, I was back to practising yoga.
In my experience, a good practitioner will apply needles to parts of the body you weren’t expecting: the toes to work out a tension headache, for example. The concept is mentally strange, but there’s usually nothing painful about the process. You may feel warmth at the needle spots and sometimes the sensation travels through the body. Everything becomes very calm. I was a relative sceptic when I began acupuncture, and now I’m a full believer, not only in acupuncture but in Qi. I practice breathing exercises daily, watch my diet, do yoga and Tai Chi, and attempt to visit a practitioner once a month for what I call ‘a maintenance check-up’. Just like a machine, I pop in to ensure that my systems are running well.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PRACTITIONER
Most countries have an official Acupuncture Council, which will list qualified practitioners based on their medical certificates. I recommend going down this route as most of these practitioners are cross educated in modern sciences, ensuring a greater overall approach to your health. Keep in mind that acupuncture works by inserting needles into the body, so you also want a practitioner who works in a sterile environment. Never accept acupuncture needles that are not from sterile packs. Ancient practices used sharpened wood or bone, and where this classic method may seem attractive, these tools can carry bacteria. If an office is not clean, it’s probably best to find a different doctor.
If you are interested in something more stereotypical and picturesque, the little Chinese doctor with a long beard and lots of wrinkles, you can certainly find one with little issue, although, unless you speak Mandarin or Cantonese there may be no clear communication.
Acupuncture is a great practice and a wonderful way to help maintain the flow of Qi through the body. It is important to take an active approach to your health and to engage with your energy–however you term it–to ensure that you can live your very best life. If you are interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we here at Koh Samui Detox Resort offer cupping as part of our holistic packages. We also offer traditional Thai massage that applies pressure along the meridian and various pressure points also used in the application of acupressure.