Chinese Medicine: Balancing Yin and Yang
Chinese Medicine is an ancient medicine that has evolved over 3000 years as a complete holistic medical approach to health and healing. Its approach is rooted in Taoism. It is a medicine that is based on observing and experiencing nature and the human body. Early practitioners of Chinese Medicine came to understand that the patterns and rhythms in nature similarly exist within the human body. From these years of studying the parallels and the interrelationships between nature and the human body, health practices developed to maintain wellness, to address illness and injury and to promote healing. It was viewed that living in harmony with one’s natural surroundings, promoted one’s internal harmony. Chinese medicine emerged, was preserved, recorded and passed down through families, teacher/student lineages, and Chinese Classical texts and eventually taught in prestigious universities.
Classical Chinese texts documented in great detail, herbal formulas, acupuncture channels, points, massage and cupping techniques, dietary and lifestyle approaches for addressing illness or “imbalances” and how to preserve health and longevity. Early on in school, a teacher of mine once shared with us that “a good village doctor of Chinese Medicine had no line of patients at his door, because he had helped to strengthen them before the sickness came.” It is a truth of Chinese medicine that prevention, cultivation of one’s own energy through meditation, exercise such as Tai Qi, and Qigong practices, adequate rest and a healthy diet each have their place in promoting a balanced, healthy life.
Yin and Yang: The Foundation
What does the Yin and Yang symbol have to do with Chinese Medicine?
At the heart of Chinese Medicine, is the concept of Yin and Yang. Indeed it is the foundation from which all Chinese Medicine is practiced. The Yang energy can be likened to the sun, light, warm, active, growing life force in nature and in our bodies. For example, Yang energy allows us to wake, move, eat, drink, talk, exercise, grow, work, and to procreate. Yang is the energy of the seed sprout that has burst through the soil’s surface. Yin energy is its opposite. Yin energy is viewed as the substance, the container, matter, water, soil, the body’s minerals, most organs, blood and fluids. Yin energy can be likened to the moon, darkness, the soil, the seed itself, water and minerals that nourish the seed so that it can sprout. Yin is rest. Yang is movement. The list of what could be considered Yin and Yang energy is vast, and in more subtle forms can become more difficult to distinguish. In the context of Chinese medicine, Yin and Yang are opposite and interdependent. Without the Yin (rest, sustenance, water, darkness, moon, moisture, blood) the Yang (sunlight, activity, movement, growth, work, eat, birth) cannot arise, is incomplete; these energies exist together. When one is out of balance it affects the other. As seen in the famous Yin/Yang symbol, within Yin there is Yang, and within Yang there is Yin; they exist in relation to each other, are in a constant state of “dynamic balance,” separate only at death, and form the foundation for Chinese diagnosis and treatment.
How does Yin and Yang affect us?
Without enough rest, we cannot maintain our active daily lives. Without food and water, we cannot function. Too much sleep can also create imbalances in our health, as can too much activity. The lens of Yin and Yang is one of the most important diagnostic tools used in Chinese Medicine to assess a patient’s symptoms as well as their overall constitutional health, which includes the body, mind and spirit. A health assessment is made using this foundational lens, as well as traditional diagnostic tools of evaluating a patient’s pulse, tongue and abdomen. An appropriate treatment strategy is then determined to effectively address acute or chronic health concerns.
Acupuncture is the application of sterile, single-use disposable needles placed at various points on the body to elicit a response to the acupuncture point, acupuncture channel and related acupuncture channels. Acupuncture channels are pathways of energy that exist in the body. These pathways contain points that activate that channel. The body is basically a series of interwoven energetic, electromagnetic cells and highways. When people ask me “what is acupuncture actually doing?” My answer is that it’s working with the specific energetic highways that exist in your body, helps them to organize and work more efficiently. Essentially, acupuncture is stimulating your body’s own internal resources to reorganize in such a way that the body can heal itself.
Acupuncture points and channels were discovered, mapped and documented over 3000 years ago and they exist in all of us as and in animals as energetic, electrical living beings. There are different traditions and systems of acupuncture. For example, Auricular Acupuncture uses acupuncture points on the ear to treat the whole body. Acupuncture needles are not reused. When they are removed, they are then disposed of in an appropriate biomedical waste container.
Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with western allopathic medical treatment in most conditions, however it is important to give your acupuncturist a complete medical history including all medications, herbs and supplements that you are taking. The following is a list of some the numerous health conditions for which acupuncture can provide support:
- Acute injuries
- Addiction Issues
- Anxiety/Depression/Emotional balancing
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Back Pain
- Common Colds/Flues/Coughs
- Diabetes Support
- Digestive Imbalances
- Fertility Support for Men & Women
- Hemorrhoids & Varicosities
- High Blood Pressure Management
- High Blood Sugar Management
- Hormone Balancing
- Insomnia/Sleep disturbances
- Immune System Imbalances & Weakness
- Menstrual Irregularities
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Pain: whole body, acute, chronic
- Pediatric-related health issues
- Post-Surgical Recovery
- Pregnancy-related health issues
- Preventative Medicine/Wellness Maintenance
- Stress-related health issues
- Sprains and Strains
- Weight loss support
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Over 3000 years of herbal study and detailed categorization of hundreds of herbs make up the Materia Medica of Chinese herbal medicine. The Chinese Materia Medica includes the nature, function, flavor, energetics, contraindications, organs and acupuncture channels affected for each herb. Essentially, Chinese herbal medicine can function as its own form of treatment for balancing the body. It can also be used to complement an acupuncture treatment. Herbal formulas are prescribed both for acute and chronic health issues. The most effective form of Chinese herbal medicine is taking the traditional herbal teas made from boiling the herbs in their whole or prepared forms. These teas are generally taken daily and can be prescribed for a few days, a week or several months depending on the nature of the health issue. In my clinic I work with herbal powders, tinctures, liniments, salves and pills. These are also very effective forms of herbal treatment, and are generally less time consuming for patients. I do make myself available to patients who prefer to receive an herbal consult only. I provide you with clean, GMP (good manufacturing practices), well-sourced, high quality herbs. There are some organic and non-sprayed herbs available from China, though this is an area that is still undergoing further development.
Moxabustion or moxa is a therapeutic herbal warming treatment used in many Asian medicine traditions. The herb used is a variety of mugwort, known as Artemesia vulgaris. This herb is processed into powder, sticks, plasters, stick-ons, and needle moxa. It comes in smoke and smokeless forms. Moxa can be applied directly or indirectly to warm acupuncture points and channels to strengthen an acupuncture treatment or as its own form of warming, therapeutic treatment. In my clinic I especially find moxa treatments useful at the changing of the seasons. At this time I generally give moxa treatments to strengthen the body’s energy and ability to adjust to the weather extremes that can challenge our immune systems.
Gua Sha Therapy
Gua Sha Therapy is another form of acupuncture and meridian stimulation through the use of Gua Sha tools. These tools vary in material form, and are used in short strokes along an area of tension, congestions, or stiffness to open the area to the flow of energy which encourages increased blood flow to the area. This technique basically promotes circulation and thus allows for tissues and organs to receive additional blood flow for the purpose of healing.
Tui Na Massage
Tui Na Massage is a form of Chinese Massage that utilizes the same system of stimulating acupuncture points and channels using various massage techniques such as grasping, brushing, rolling, pinching, and kneading to achieve an effective response. I often use these techniques in my pediatric wellness treatments to stimulate and boost children’s immune system, and to strengthen their overall constitutional health.
Cupping is another therapeutic treatment modality used in the practice of Chinese Medicine. Using a vacuum suction technique, glass or plastic cups are applied generally to fleshy areas on the body such as the back, neck, shoulder, and occasionally the legs. Cupping is used to address areas of pain, tension, and to relieve general body aches. Cupping is also used on the back and neck for colds, flues, coughs and chest congestion. The cupping treatment brings up “sha” or blockage up to the surface of the skin where it is more easily cleared by the body. Cupping marks can typically be colorful ranging from light pink to deep purple depending on the level of tension or pain that is present. The cupping marks left behind can last several days and sometimes several weeks as the body continues to heal.
Food is medicine. Similar to herbs, foods also have healing properties that can affect the acupuncture channels. If our bodies are not well nourished by the foods we choose to eat, it can lend itself to a number of chronic health issues and a much slower healing process. Dietary guidance is another branch of Chinese Medical therapeutic treatment. As Licensed Acupuncturists it is within our scope of practice to offer dietary recommendations. Chinese Medicine has numerous traditional food-based approaches to healing and maintaining good health. For example “Congee” is a traditional rice porridge that can include a prescribed herbal formula to address specific health concerns. This form of food therapy is gentle and easy on the digestive system. It is generally prescribed for digestive disorders, supportive treatment of acute or chronic illness, surgery, trauma, and childbirth.
In my practice we will go over your general nutritional preferences and patterns to see if there is need for guidance. I am particularly interested in whether or not you are skipping meals, eating on the run, or eating late, as all of these eating habits can lend themselves to digestive and long-term imbalances in one’s health. Remember, Chinese Medicine treats the whole person, that includes assessing the fuel we put into our bodies and how that fuel then affects our overall health and healing processes. I also include various nutritional approaches from my own nutritional training and experience. Both of these approaches can be combined according to your health needs.