Traditional Chinese medicine is the second most practiced medical system in the world. Today, one quarter of the world’s population uses one or more of its therapies including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tui-na massage, diet therapy, tai chi and qi gong exercise to maintain health and wellness.
Health care is regarded as one of several means to a good life, and is defined as an individual’s harmonious interaction with their community and the natural environment.
The origin of Chinese medicine
China is one of the world’s oldest civilisations with a continuous history of over 4,000 years. The ancient Chinese physicians realised that illness was rare when people lived in a completely natural environment.
According to the historic medical texts, those who understood the laws of nature, ate and drank in moderation and maintained a peaceful mind and body could live a natural life span of a hundred years.
Others who lived recklessly, overindulged in food and drink, neglected their emotions and pursued quick pleasures of the heart declined in health by the age of fifty. Nor did they obtain true happiness through the sacrifice of their health.
Chinese philosophy has long understood that good health and happiness depends on a harmonious existence between an individual and their environment. Yet prevention was no longer enough as society became more complex and lifestyles busier and stressful. So the ancient physicians developed a system of medicine that could diagnose and restore this lost balance to an individual’s life.
The effectiveness of Chinese medicine lies in its ability to diagnose and treat each individual as a whole, both physically and emotionally. This is possible because Chinese medicine organises all of the observable signs of human life into a comprehensive system of functions and relationships.
It should also not be surprising that the workings of the human body and nature are closely aligned. Thus, Chinese medicine uses many natural metaphors to explain the physiological functioning of the body such as “dampness”, “liver wind” or “kidney water unable to control heart fire.” These theories have been continuously documented, tested and refined by generations of Chinese physicians over many thousands of years.
In the eyes of Chinese medicine, each person is constitutionally different and so is the cause and progression of their disease. Chinese medicine aims to treat the underlying pattern of physical dysfunction that manifest as symptoms of disease, not just the diseases themselves as described by western medicine. Each of these patterns, or syndromes, represents a unique set of physical, emotional, lifestyle and environmental factors. By always treating the cause of a symptom we can diagnose its true origin, prevent its progression and restore the body’s own healing ability.
Ancient remedies for modern times
It is a well known saying that “the superior physician prevents disease before it occurs.” Throughout its long history, Chinese medicine physicians developed many theories and practical measures that could be applied in daily life to help people recognise and protect themselves against the causes of illness.
Many of these ideas and concepts are woven into the fabric of Chinese culture today. They are not complex and reflect an understanding of health and nature that is shared by many ordinary members of Chinese society as part of their upbringing. Using food as medicine is an integral part of Chinese and Asian food culture. Exercises such as tui na massage and tai chi are popularly practiced worldwide.
The development of Chinese medicine continues today both in China and around the world with the support of the World Health Organisation and national centres such as the NCCAM (United States) and NHMRC (Australia) that support evidence-based research. More and more people are recognising the value of traditional medicines and preferring natural, drug-free treatments where possible. One quarter of the world’s population uses or practices at least one of the components of Chinese medicine.
Health is a philosophy of life
The paradigm of modern disease is not that we are lacking in science or medicine, but a greater awareness of ourselves and our place in nature. Chinese medicine serves as a gentle reminder to us that we cannot be healthy if we are not at peace within. Neither can we be healthy on a sick planet. We hope that Chinese medicine can inspire you to find happiness and health from harmony in your life.
Remember, health is not just the absence of illness, it’s a philosophy of life.