On a global scale, eastern and western therapeutic doctrines lie at the heart of medical practice today. The western approach of scientific analysis is the basis of our understanding of the human body, while eastern medicine offers an equally coherent empirical model of health. Both are distinct in principle and approach and are rooted in a continuous process of critical thinking, extensive observations, and centuries of testing. As a result, each has a place in the pantheon of healthful pathways supported by a record of effectiveness spanning millennia through the successful treatment of billions of patients.
Basic concepts of eastern medicine
Propriety structures that comprise eastern medical theories, while consistent and logical, are best understood within the context of eastern rationality. Attempts to express these modalities through concepts of western orthodoxy, or to view the two as parallel systematic approaches can be deceptive, leading to potential misapplication and moderated results.
A primary distinction lies in diagnostic procedure. Beginning with a symptom, the western physician typically searches for a defined cause, condition, or disease underlying the patient’s disorder. Using analytical logic and a wide array of conceptual and inferential tools the western physician uses this diagnosis to establish a treatment plan.
Conversely, the eastern physician gathers a host of relevant information, including symptoms, which are considered within the context of the patient’s underlying physical and psychological characteristics. The information is then organized into a set of comprehensive patterns, recognizable in terms of eastern models of health, which the physician can then use as framework for remediation.
An array of treatment options may then be employed in order to bring anomalous patterns into harmonic balance, advancing the process of healing while strengthening the life force that promotes a sustaining condition of general good health for the patient.
Treatment: Eradicate disease
Treatment: Enhance self-regulatory capacity
Eastern medicine terminology
Eastern medicine uses terminology and a conceptual framework that may sound strange to western sensibilities. For example, my father and brother, certified acupuncturists and herbalists, refer to certain diseases as being generated by “Stagnant Heart Qi”, “Disharmony of Liver”, “Dampness of Spleen”, “Deficient Yin of Stomach”, or “Deficiency of Kidney essence.”
Five Fundamental Substances
In the eastern model, Qi, Jing, Shen, Blood, and Fluids are regarded as five fundamental Substances of the human body. They are commonly used terms to describe a pattern of harmony or disharmony in the patient. Qi, often translated as vital energy or life force, is the most basic of the fundamental Substances. Qi is also conceptualized functionally in terms of what it does and has three sources.
Prenatal Qi is transmitted from parents to their children at conception and is responsible for an individual’s inherited constitution.
The second source is Grain Qi, which is derived from the digestion of food. A third source is the energy absorbed from the air by the lungs. Eastern medicine holds that Qi is responsible both for the physical integrity of any entity and for the transformations that entity undergoes. As long as Qi in the body maintains a proper balance, there is health. When this balance is disturbed to any significant degree, discomfort or illness can result. For example, if there is a Qi deficiency, then issues like fatigue, lowered immunity, poor digestion, and breathing problems may ensue. Similarly, an excess of Qi can also result in illness, such as anxiety, insomnia, and dry mouth.
Jing, best translated as Essence, is the Substance that underlies all organic life and is the basis of reproduction and development. Disharmony of Jing might involve improper maturation, sexual dysfunction, infertility, premature aging, and congenital defects. Jing and Qi together are believed to form the foundation for Shen, or spirit.
Shen is thought to be stored in the Heart and is responsible for regulating emotions. When Shen is disturbed, people experience mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and insomnia.
Qi, Jing, and Shen are referred to as The Three Treasures, and together form the foundation for understanding the human body and the healing practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Blood is the liquid life force of the body and is considered to be a subset of Qi. Qi gives rise to Blood, which nourishes internal organs, which, in turn, produces more Qi. The major activity of the Blood is to circulate continuously throughout the body, nourishing and maintaining its various parts. Body Fluids consist of thin, clear, and water-like fluids that nourish the skin and muscles, and thick viscous liquids that lubricate organs, brains, and spinal cord.