Traditional Chinese medicine has been around or at least 2,500 years and includes various types of herbal medicines, acupuncture, qi gong, tui na, and dietary therapy. One of the basic tenets of London Chinese medicine is that the body has a flow of qi, or energy, running through it in 12 major meridians or channels and all the while that this energy is in balance the body is healthy. However, if the flow of qi becomes blocked or out of balance, this indicates ill health.
Another ancient Chinese concept is that of yin and yang. These are two opposite yet complementary aspects that everything in the universe can be divided into. One analogy is the sunny side and shady side of a hill. The shady side is yin, while the sunny side is yang. Water is yin and fire is yang. Female is yin, while male is yang. The moon is yin and the sun is yang, and so on. In diagrammatic form yin and yang appear as two fish in a circle, yin in black and yang in white. The fact that each yin contains a little yang and each yang a little yin is symbolized by the eye of each fish which is of the opposite colour.
There are also the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. They can be represented as follows:
Phenomenon Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
East South Centre West North
green/violet red/purple yellow/pink white black
wind heat damp dryness cold
sour bitter sweet acrid salty
Liver Heart Spleen Lung Kidney
Gallbladder Small intestine Stomach Large intestine Bladder
eye tongue mouth nose ears
Chinese herbal medicine consists of a huge array of herbs and animal derivatives such as dried parts of scorpions, snakes, deer antlers, and insects. All parts of a plant may be used – the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds. In 1578 the famous Bencao gangmu was published by Li Shizhen and lists no less than 1,892 drugs and over 11,000 prescriptions for particular health problems.
Chinese medicine consists not only of acupuncture and herbs, but also moxibustion which consists of burning dried mugwort at particular points on the body; cupping, in which hot glass cups are placed on the body to draw blood to the skin; qi gong which is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation; and tui na which is a form of massage. There is also gua sha which consists of scraping the skin with a massage tool to increase circulation. A therapist may use any or all of these in combination depending on the condition to be treated.
A TCM therapist uses smell, hearing, voice vibration, touch, and pulse diagnosis to discover the source of an unbalanced health condition, which organ it is related to, and which meridians are affected.
Acupuncture consists of inserting very fine needles into the skin at specific points on the meridians depending upon the condition which needs to be treated, with the aim of bringing yin and yang back into balance and restoring the flow of qi through the body. These needles may be left in the body for up to ten minutes and may be moved around by hand in order to stimulate the meridians. Sometimes a small electrical charge may be applied to the needles with the same purpose.
Chinese herbal formulas have been in use for at least 2,200 years and each herb or part of the herb has a specific purpose to help the body achieve harmony. The same thing applies to foods, since different foods have different energies which can affect specific organs and help them to heal.
Meditation exercises also play their part in Chinese medicine. Tai chi and qi gong are practiced regularly by many people in the West today. Qi gong, which was known in ancient China as "the method to repel illness and prolong life," contains elements of meditation, relaxation training, martial-arts techniques, and breathing exercises that are intended to cultivate qi and transmit it to all the bodily organs.
Tai chi is characterized by deliberately slow, continuous, circular, well-balanced, and rhythmic movements that were originally practiced as a martial art.