Although relatively new to the western world, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is anything but new. Early attempts to record methods of treating diseases date back to 1500BC and some claim that acupuncture was practiced in the Stone Age when sharp edged tools or stones were used to treat diseases and ailments. Uh, ouch! Luckily things have evolved from those times, but the fundamentals of how we treat are still deeply rooted in those early years of development.
As, with many philosophies of healing, the absence of disease in an individual is paramount, but what is so fundamental with TCM, is the state of balance. Balance not only within the individual, but also balance within ones environment and within nature and the earth. For in Chinese philosophy, the two cannot be separated.
Much of the knowledge about the body, how it works and TCM fundamentals evolved from observing the body in nature and through trial and error with local plants and foods. Primitive people had an intimate knowledge of their local plant species and in their search for food found that certain plants were able to cure diseases or ease pains. It is through trial and error over thousands of years that herbal medicine took shape in China.
In early times, in accordance with Confucius thought, any form of surgery was forbidden as the body was thought to be sacred and should remain complete through life and death and you would be insulting your ancestors if you cut into it in any way. Therefore TCM had to evolve by finding external means to cure internal disease. Much of this was done through observing the body in nature and within the seasons, as well as identifying different systems and functions within the body.
In Chinese Medicine the major organs as identified in Western Allopathic medicine (Liver, Heart, Kidneys…) are present but in addition to general functions, through observation, more patterns or functions were identified. For instance, in TCM the Liver system has a lot to do with circulation and filtering of toxins but also has an influence over the eyes, the nails, is key in menstrual health as well and emotional well-being. It was noted to be strongest in its energy in the spring-time and even associate with a certain flavour (sour). Each organ is part of a system that incorporates a sense organ, a taste, a time of day, a season, and emotion… All these developed through centuries of observing the body itself and the body within nature and the environment.
And the goal – always seeking to bring balance back, creating harmony inside and out. Much of this balance – often stated in terms of yin and yang – is rooted in Taoist philosophy where health is believed to be harmony between opposing forces of the natural world (dry, damp, cold, heat etc.). And the only way to be healthy is to adjust to the natural forces within the world and become a part of their rhythm and remain in harmony with them. A lot of this might be intuitive, like wanting warm foods and drinks in the winter-time when it is cold outside or cool things in the heat of the summer, but unfortunately in modern day we have drifted from these principles in many ways. By having things such as icy drinks in the dead of winter or attempting to maintain the same stamina in the winter months as in the naturally more energetic summer months, often looking for external sources or artificial ways to rectify the situation, like using sugar or caffeine to boost or energy instead of relying on more rest or ‘hibernating’ as one might naturally do in the colder darker months if able to. By drifting from these natural instincts we loose some of the more powerful and innate ways of bringing the body back to balance.
By tuning in, observing and having a deeper understanding of what your body is saying and what it needs, one become better equipped to handle the changes both internally and externally and is more inline with the natural rhythms of the earth –ideally leading to a happier, healthier you.