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Traditional Chinese Medicine

chinese character for kidney jing, essence


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient healing system developed in China that is still in practice today. Chinese Medicine combines diagnosis, acupuncture, herbal therapy, Tui Na, Qigong and diet to aid the natural healing ability of the human body. TCM is centered around the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang and the concept of a life force, called Chi or Qi.

Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang is an ancient Chinese philosophy that represents the harmony between two opposites, such as night and day. Yin and Yang is represented by the symbol.

chinese character for kidney jing, essence

The circle symbolizes a whole or a unified individual, such as the human body. The division of the whole into light and dark, in which both parts are of equal quantity. This division represents opposites that live together in harmony. Each side of the division has a small component of the other, which shows the characteristics of each side is found in the other. Thus, even though harmony exists, the sides are not perfect. The dark region is the Yin and the bright region is Yang. Yin and Yang also represent feelings and physical aspects of the human body. Yin characteristics are inactive, feminine, cold, pale skin color, and defined by space or confusion to name a few. Yang characteristics of the body include very active, masculine, hot, red skin color, and defined by time and motion to name a few. A balance of both Yin and Yang is important to maintain harmony or good physical and mental health. An imbalance of one can be over come by doing the opposite. Meditation can balance an excessively Yang quality, while exercise can balance an excessively Yin quality.

Chi (Qi)

Chi (pronounced "chee") is the life force within every animate object and every living being. Chi comes in many different forms. Yuan-chi is the innate energy at conception. Yang-chi is the energy of motion. Ying-chi, nourishing energy, and wei-chi, protective energy, are obtained from food during digestion. Chi flows through the body in pathways called meridians. An obstruction or excess of Chi causes disease. Chi can be built up and enhanced through proper diet, exercise and meditation. Balance is important for maintain an adequate Chi level for good health. Excessive mental and physical activities, as well as injury and disease can decrease Chi flow and Chi levels in the body.


There are twelve major meridians and two special meridians. The twelve major meridians are named after the organ system that they affect when stimulate: lung, large intestine, stomach, spleen, heart, small intestine, bladder, kidney, pericardium, gall bladder, liver, and triple warmer. The two special meridians are called the governing vessel and the conception vessel, located down the front and back mid-lines of the body. The meridians on the right side of the body are identical to those on the left side. Meridians are classified as either Yin or Yang. The Yin meridians are heart, pericardium, lung, spleen, liver, and the kidney. The Yang meridians are the small intestine, triple-warmer, large intestine, stomach, gall bladder, and bladder. An injury or disease of an organ also effects the corresponding meridian and potentially other organs. The injury or disease is usually caused by either a deficiency or excess of Chi flow to the organ. Please note that the energy flow through the meridians is important to all modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine.


A practitioner uses pulse reading, tongue reading, dietary habits, and symptoms to diagnose the Chi imbalance. Pulse reading involves specialized palpation of the radial artery of the wrist in three positions with three fingers. Each position is observed with superficial and deep pressure on both right and left wrists. The superficial pressure allows the practitioner to observe the Yang meridians and the deep pressure the Yin meridians. Tongue reading involves visual observation of five major regions of the tongue; kidney (proximal center), spleen (center), liver (lateral both sides), heart (very tip) and lung (just posterior to the heart region) regions. The condition of the tongue's surface reflects the health of the patient. The color of each region and the condition of the fur is observed by the practitioner. The body of the tongue reflects the long-term condition of the viscera, and the fur reflects short-term conditions of digestion, fluid balance, and heat regulation.


Diet is especially important for a person's health and an unbalanced diet can affect chi flow through the meridians. Foods and beverages can also be classified as Yin or Yang depending on there effects on the body. Cold foods and drink are Yin and tend to increase the Yin (decrease the Yang) of the body. Hot foods and drink are Yang and tend to increase the Yang (decrease the Yin) of the body. Neutral foods are midway between Cold foods and Hot foods and do not contribute to either Yin or Yang of the body. For instance, a cold person drinks hot tea to increase their Yang so the warm up. A hot person drinks cool water to decrease their Yang to cool down. These are simplified examples of diagnosis, and it becomes very complex when there are many variables involved at a time. If a person that tends to be Yin eats a lot of Yin food, this person will develop a Yang deficiency. Likewise, a Yang person that eats a lot of Yang food will develop a Yin deficiency.


Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very thin, non-hollow needles in the body at specific locations to balance the Chi flow in the meridians. The regions on the surface of body where the needles are inserted are called acupuncture points. Needle stimulation of the acupuncture points attempts to restore the proper chi flow in the meridians and therefore aids in the natural healing process of the corresponding organ(s). Sometimes the practitioner needs to increase or tonify the flow of chi, when its movement is stagnant. Other times, the practitioner needs to reduce or disperse the energy flow in one meridian so that it can be directed to another meridian that has weak flow. The enhancement or sedation of energy flow is controlled by the rotating each needle clockwise to disperse and counter-clockwise to tonify.

Herbal Therapy

Chinese herbal therapy is often prescribed following a diagnosis to treat a specific condition or energy pattern. Herbal remedies are typically a combination of herbs that are tailored specifically for the condition of the patient. Herbal therapy is no different than other treatments in Chinese Medicine. It's goal is to bring balance to the body. Herbs can also enhance or increase the energy flow in the body. Chinese herbs and remedies can be found in bulk form in a Chinese apothecary shop. The raw herbs are stored in a cabinet with many drawers, each containing a different herb. Once prescribed, the patient must cook the herbs on a stove with water for a prescribed amount of time to boil down and concentrate the herbal broth. Then the broth is consumed. After some period of time, like a week or two, the patient returns to the herbalist for evaluation and diagnosis to see if the person's condition has improved.

Tui Na

Tui Na (pronounced "twee nah") is a Chinese practice that combines bodywork, such as massage, acupressure, physical therapy and spinal manipulation similar to that practiced by Chiropractors. Tui Na translates to “push pull”, referring to the manual manipulation of the body. Again, the goal of Tui Na is to remove energy blocks and enhance the flow of energy (Chi) in the body. It also enhances the blood flow and the lymphatic flow. Tui Na helps to release tension that restricts the flow of Chi.


Qigong is a combination of exercises, deep breathing, meditation and visualization that enhances the flow of energy in the body. A person that practices Qigong learns the ability to work with his/her own energy for self-healing. And with practice, he/she can learn to use Qigong healing to work with others energy for healing (Qigong Therapy). Qigong is around five thousand years old and is often referred to as the Grandfather to what is known today as Traditional Chinese Medicine.


Once a diagnosis is made, the practitioner can determine the proper components of the treatment. The treatment usually involves a combination of acupuncture, dietary changes, exercise (including Qigong) or rest (including sleep and meditation), and follow-up visits if necessary. The severity of the patient's illness will determine how quickly they heal. Chronic problems tend to take longer to heal than acute problems. It is important to remember that the goal of the treatment is to re-balance the flow of Chi throughout the patient's body, which enhances their natural healing ability.


I have presented only a very superficial look at Traditional Chinese Medicine. It takes many years of training to master this healing art. Traditional Chinese Medicine is truly a holistic healing system that helps the practitioner to seek out and treat the root cause of a patient's imbalance or illness. Thus, differentiating itself from the modern practice of treating symptoms. While we have covered some basic modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are other less known practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as moxibustion, cupping and gua sha. I have experienced and received treatments in all the aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine described in this article and have found them beneficial. I recommend that you give it a try as an alternative to treating symptoms. Discuss this with your health care practitioner to determine if Traditional Chinese Medicine is right for you.


  • Between Heaven and Earth, A Guide to Chinese Medicine, 1991, Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac, O.M.D.
  • The Tao of Health, Sex, & Longevity, 1989, Daniel P. Reid
  • Acupuncture: The Ancient Chinese Art of Healing and How it Works Scientifically, 1972, Felix Mann

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