The Chinese have an interesting way of describing health and disease that challenges our Western minds both with its picturesque simplicity and seemingly illogical complexity.
The Eastern philosophy of health is based on prevention and lifestyle. A truly holistic approach is used which includes physical, emotional and spiritual aspects. In the West our health philosophy is generally based on symptomology and crisis support in a fragmented system by system approach.
For the Chinese there are three causes of illness: – emotional state, environment and other. Other includes diet, seasons, trauma etc. The belief is that the body will innately heal itself and constantly strive for homeostasis or balance. The longer something is imbalanced the more problems will arise, in an ever widening circle.
There are several basic tenets of this philosophy that I’ll quickly explain, they are: chi, meridians, yin and yang, circulation of energy and the five elements.
Chi & Meridians
Chi is life force or innate intelligence. This enters our bodies at birth through the navel and leaves the same way at death. All living things contain chi. Chi is not stable or static so it contantly fluctuates and moves around in the body.
Disease is then perceived as a disruption in the normal flow and condition of chi throughout the body, brought about by emotional state, environment or trauma (for example, scar tissue interrupts the flow of chi). Imbalance usually manifests first in a muscle or joint and then moves on to an organ.
Now this chi doesn’t just fly randomly around the body. In a normal person, it is channeled into and flows through pathways called meridians.Thousands of years ago, physicians and other learned men noticed that soldiers injured in battle from rocks and arrows hitting them in specific places on their body, would be healed from random diseases. Slowly then, through trial and error the meridians were mapped out. These pathways are invisible and run sometimes superficially, sometimes deeply within the body.
There are twelve main meridians, plus many other additional ones. The meridians are paired (one yin, one yang) and are named for the organ they relate to or where they course in the body. If we imagine the meridians as circuits full of electrical energy, then it’s easy to entertain the idea of, for example, stress overloading the circuit and popping the circuit breaker so that they (the meridians) must be reset before energy can again flow properly.
Yin and yang are the properties, elements or components of chi and affect its condition. Yin and yang can be compared to positive and negative electrical charges – they are opposing, yet very much interrelated and complimentary. All living creatures possess yin and yang characteristics and have them in varying proportions. The forces of yin and yang are constantly working upon us, inside and out. These forces are not stable or static. They fluctuate and pulsate within any particular substance or creature. Following are some of the properties of yin and yang.
Circulation of Energy
Over a 24-hour period, chi flows continuously through the meridians like a comet or a tide. For two hours each day each meridian has a high tide of energy as it flows from one meridian to the next. Often the best time to treat a meridian or its related imbalance is during this two-hour crest, though this isn’t always possible.
The law of the five elements or five ‘forces’ or ‘phases’ is the study of the relationships in nature as the Chinese applied them to the dynamics of the body. The elements describe various aspects of our energy or chi. They are – metal, earth, fire, water and wood. Here are some of the properties of the five elements.
Autumn harvest, afternoon, sorrow, dryness, white, spicy, structure, communication.
Indian summer, maturation, self-pity, humidity, yellow, sweet, introspection, nourishment.
Summer, growth, joy, high heat, red, bitter, vitality, anxiety.
Winter, hibernation, fear, cold, black/blue, salt, emotions, conserving resources.
Spring, birth, anger, wind, green, sour, willpower, developing goals.
Summary & Resources
This has been an incredibly simplified look at an incredibly complex health system. I encourage you to seek out diagrams and explanations of the meridians, yin/yang balance and the interrelationships of the five elements.
We have not even touched on how the doctor of eastern medicine would diagnose and treat a patient. We have several excellent doctors of chinese medicine here in Sedona and I would encourage you to check out their website and their office to get a sense of how they run their practice. Acupuncture and herbs do not work equally well for every person but I have found it helpful for different conditions and also for general health.
Here are my top three picks for chinese medicine practitioners in Sedona.
www.acuherbalmed.com Sig & Sarah Hauer
www.sedona-acupuncture.com Robert Abrahamson
www.acupuncturesedona.com Ahna Bridenbaugh
**This blog is based on my initial training in acupuncture and acupressure in 1991 and some research I’ve done since that time. I do not practice acupuncture. If asked, I would refer to those practitioners above.**