Monday, June 14, 2010

The Art of Balancing Yin and Yang

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) had been the primary form of medicine in Asia for centuries, even thousands of years, and includes Chinese Herbal medicine, nutritional therapy and acupuncture. Some TCM practitioners also include Shiatsu or Tui Na massage, as a regular part of their practice. There are many theories on which Chinese medicine is based.

One of the core principals of TCM is the idea that there must be balance of yin versus yang in order for the body to work at its optimal level. This balance must be maintained in order to optimize our qi (the life force, or spiritual energy of the body), blood, and jing (the essence we are born with and irreversibly lost as we get older). The organs can also be classified in terms of their yin (or Zang) and yang (Fu) functions. The functions of the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lung, Kidney and Pericardium make them Zang organs, while the small intestine, large intestine, gallbladder, urinary bladder and stomach are all Fu or Yang organs. Under this model each yin organ is paired with a yang order in order to maintain that balance (Heart and Small intestine, Liver and gallbladder, etc.).

There are also meridians or channels along the body which correspond to these different organ systems. Acupuncture points are placed all along these different channels, with the idea that tapping into one certain point taps into a specific function (in the form of energy) along that channel. Certain pathologies can be diagnosed in terms of excess or deficiency of qi, blood or essence along any of these channels.

Your TCM practitioner may ask you a series of questions about your temperature, emotional tendencies, specific symptomology, cravings, food intake and appetite, thirst, sleep, and menstrual cycle in women. They will look at your tongue, as TCM practitioners see the tongue as a map of the body. Colour, shape, consistency and distribution of coat all correspond to certain organ systems of the body, and again point to either an excess or deficiency and therefore an imbalance in yin or yang. They will also feel your wrist pulses. There are said to be three pulses on each arm, and again the rate, rhythm and characteristics of these pulses signify pathology in terms of excess or deficiency in one or more of the organ systems.

Once a diagnosis has been established, your TCM practitioner will recommend herbs or acupuncture, sometimes both, as well as nutritional suggestions in order to bring the organ system back into balance and minimize or eliminate symptoms. Certain foods are more cooling or warming, support either yin or yang and will be recommended in terms of what system you are trying to strengthen or subdue. Acupuncture points and herbs are chosen much the same way. Points are chosen based on the organ system affected, and whether there is an excess or deficiency. There are complimentary points on other meridians that may also be needled, either local or distal to the problem, but all being tapped into with the goal of subduing or strengthening a system.

Today acupuncture is being studied in terms of its ability to reduce inflammation by calling attention to certain areas of the body. Studies are showing efficacy with the use of acupuncture for pain management including low back pain, neck pain and headache. Research devoted to acupuncture and infertility or menstrual irregularity, is also showing promising results. In practice, TCM is used for the effective treatment of anything from acute cold to chronic disease. Naturopathic doctors are trained in TCM and may incorporate traditional Chinese herbs, as well as acupuncture into their treatment plans. Although many shy away from a treatment in which needles are inserted into the body, I urge you to give it a try. Combined with some very powerful and effective TCM herbs, acupuncture can lead to significant improvements. Some people find it a relaxing and even addictive experience.

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