Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (also referred to as traditional Oriental or Asian Medicine or just TCM) is a unique, integrated system of medical philosophy, diagnosis and treatment, that is used to address physical and emotional imbalances. It is an unbroken tradition going back over 3,000 years and is still growing and evolving. The secret to its continuity is the written Chinese characters (There is no Chinese alphabet or letters, but rather, characters or pictograms are used, each, to some degree, telling a story and representing words or ideas). Remarkably, inhabitants of China, living hundreds of miles apart, and speaking completely different tongues, are able to read the same characters and understand what is written! This phenomenon has led to the continued study and application of 2,000 year old scholarly texts to the present day. Actually, to say that there is a classic unified Traditional Chinese Medicine would be a misnomer. Rather, there are literally thousands of medical traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation, and what unites them, remarkably, is the common therapeutic goal of balancing the patient.


Chinese medicine determines pattern identification by utilizing specific diagnostic tools to determine a differential diagnosis. This process is based upon the fundamental principle that signs and symptoms reflect the condition of the internal organs. Using the body's own signs, such as the pulses (3 on each wrist, each of 3 depths), the tongue, the face, the eyes, and many other indicators, patterns begin to emerge. Four methods are used to establish a working therapeutic picture: Looking (observing the patient's body and demeanor, for example.), Hearing and Smelling (observing the quality of the patient's voice, breathing and odor), Asking (identifying subjective information from the patient) and Feeling (palpation of the pulses and specific points on the body).

Once a working differential diagnosis is determined, the next step is treatment. Five branches or therapeutic methods are used to promote this balance, maintain harmony and achieve longevity:

The Five Branches of TCM

  Acupuncture and Moxabustion: Strategically inserting very fine needles, or applying moxa ( Artemisia argyi ) to penetrate and eliminate internal cold, the therapist is able to regulate the body's Qi and blood which are produced by the internal organs, and traverses the channels and vessels. Therapeutically, acupuncture opens up blockages to relieve stagnation and eliminate pain, accelerates healing, elevates mood, strengthens the body's immune function, and bio-electrically promotes movement, connectivity and balance.

  Chinese Herbal Medicinal Formulae: Chinese Herbal Medicinal Formulae: Using substances from the plant, mineral and (occasionally) animal kingdoms, Chinese herbal formulas treat bio-chemical imbalances in the body*. They are made up of a sophisticated hierarchy of often as many as 20 or more ingredients, that address primary and secondary medical issues, eliminate potential side effects of single herbs, resolve complicated patterns which at times reflect both repletion (excess) and vacuity (deficiency) syndromes, and treat internal as well external, and physical as well as emotional disorders. Herbal formulas contain ingredients with different flavors, properties and temperatures, selected according to the individual patient's constitution and differential diagnosis, and direct treatment to specific regions, channels or organs of the body as needed.


  Exercise Therapy: Qigong is an ancient form of Chinese energetic exercise that heals through rhythmic breathing and specific body movements, to promote the cultivation and movement of Qi. Qigong includes internal healing arts, such as the Five-Animal Exercise developed by great 3rd century CE physician Hua Tuo, plus medical Qigong and various styles of Taijiquan, an internal martial art practiced worldwide.


  Massage Therapy: Tuina is the use of traditional Chinese massage to treat injuries of tendons and muscles, and organ disorders. Tuina applies pressure on acupuncture points, as well as applying specific movements along the meridians, to regulate and harmonize the flow of Qi and Blood.


  Nutritional Guidance and Diet therapy: The great 7th century CE physician, Sun Si Miao teaches that the physician should "first treat with food and with modification of lifestyle. If this does not work then use acupuncture and herbs. Those who are ignorant about food can not hope to survive." Thus we see that food should be the first line of Chinese medical treatment. It is a highly effective method of self-treatment handed down in China over thousands of years. As with all agrarian cultures, the Chinese understood the vital connection between food and health. Thus, in Chinese dietetic therapy, the physician prescribes balanced foods to treat disharmonies in the Qi, Blood, and organ functions, using the energetic profile of foods.

As previously mentioned, the focus of all five of these treatment methods is to create balance. For example, if a patient shows signs of repletion (such as heat, cold, dryness, food accumulation, phlegm, or dampness) the treatment principle would be to drain or reduce the excess. If a patient shows vacuity, the principle would be to supplement. If the patient shows blockage or stagnation, the principle would be to invigorate and move the body's vital energy, thereby unblocking it and eliminating pain. If the patient shows signs of an exterior pathogen entering the body, the principle is to expel the unwanted pathogen. Treatment is based on function rather than structure, and is based upon the assumption that change is a constant dynamic. This is the advantage of viewing the body's own diagnostic signs, as often the Chinese medical physician will be able to determine a potential problem much earlier than his Western medical colleague.


Traditional Oriental medicine is real effective medicine, and quite powerful, but its laws and properties are unique, and Western medical parallels and applications cannot always be applied . It is real science, but, lehavdil, like halacha (Jewish law), it has its own terminology and rules: Just like for Pesach (The Passover holiday) chometz isn't leavening, and for the Sabbath, bishul isn't cooking, so too blood vacuity does not necessarily connote anemia, and heart heat does not mean angina or tachycardia. Many double blind studies have verified its therapeutic effectiveness, and clinically, Chinese medicine has been able to successfully treat and resolve a plethora of conditions which have not satisfactorily been resolvable by Western allopathic medicine, including but not limited to digestive disorders, immune function compromise, pain syndromes, nervous disorders and gynecological and fertility issues. Currently, the integration of Chinese medicine has enabled the Western physician to eliminate the usual expected side effects of many treatment protocols including chemo and radiation therapies in the treatment of cancer (no hair loss, no lowered wbc, no loss of vitality and no skin rash).

* According to halacha, it is permissible to use animal products for medicinal reasons. Nonetheless in my practice whenever possible I do substitute non-animal ingredients.


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