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Traditional Chinese Medicine - Is It Relevant Today?

Traditional Chinese Medicine - Is It Relevant Today?

"Keeping things in order instead of repairing damages, that is the basic principle of wisdom. Treating a disease when it hits is like starting to dig a well when you’re already thirsty or making weapons amidst a war."

                                                    (Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor)

The therapeutic system of traditional Chinese medicine has been evolving since the second millennium BC. The tradition of perceiving man as a whole and a strong emphasis on disease prevention, or to put it more accurately, the emphasis on continuous health consolidation, have survived up until today, in a world that is based mostly on scientific knowledge. 


History and myths 

The first personalities of Chinese medicine were undoubtedly the three mythical emperors Fu-Si, Shennong and Huangdi. Fu-si is considered to be the founder of acupuncture because he himself produced nine types of needles for various medical purposes. Shennong, or "divine farmer", had a close relationship with the plant kingdom. The Emperor allegedly invented the plow and taught people to cultivate land and grow grain. Farming is not far from herbs, and Shennong is considered the founder of phytotherapy. According to the legend he tasted hundreds of herbs and assembled all of his knowledge about them inside the Shennongs canon of herbs. The third emperor was Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. The Taoists derive their teachings from him. The Yellow Emperor dealt with the mystery of eternal life, the cultivation of life force and, of course, the healing of illnesses. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine is considered to be the oldest work of traditional Chinese medicine.


Principles of Chinese Medicine 

Chinese medicine looks at humans as part of the universe. It sees one as an entirety - the same rules that apply to the universe apply to the human body. Body functioning is also subject to the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water). The symbolism of their relationships in nature (e.g. wood fuels fire because a fire without wood can not burn) is also transmitted to relationships between organs. If the relationships are disturbed, there is an imbalance - the beginning of disease. 


From the Youngest to the Oldest 

Chinese medicine has a wide range of uses. It is possible to work with all ages from the youngest to the oldest. An indisputable advantage is the creation of an individual therapeutic plan for every individual and the ability to adapt to the needs of the client. For example, if the client is not inclined to drink herbal infusions, it is possible to work with acupuncture paths istead. If someone plans to leave the country for a long time, it is possible to teach him / her Qi Gong exercises, which they can practice anywhere. There are a lot of choices and flexibility is very important when working with a client. A special age group are children. Sometimes it is not possible to demand co-operation (for example with infants), sometimes, even though a preschooler would be able to cooperate with a practitioner, he / she does not want to cooperate. But in these instances too, where there is a will, there is also a way to develop a strategy that will suit even the smallest of patients. 


The smallest of children are often brought by their parents as prevention before each vaccination. Appropriate phytotherapeutic treatment can reduce or eliminate any undesirable effects of vaccination. Another group of clients are children whose undesirable effects have unfortunately manifested themselves. Parents often come after several hospitalizations even after a clear diagnosis of a neurological nature has been made. Even in this case it is also worth mixing up a suitable herbal blend and attempting at least to alleviate symptoms of often serious neurological problems. Next in line are new mothers that come with various problems from difficult or insufficient breastfeeding, through fatigue, hair loss to gynecological problems. 


In these cases, attention is focused mainly on the mother, but the threat of premature termination of breastfeeding and its re-starting is also very beneficial for the child. In the case of younger preschoolers, parents often seek TCM practice when their child has frequent illnesses after admission to kindergarten as well as allergies, eczema, depression, growth disorders, etc. Traditional Chinese medicine can be very helpful in treating these problems. In addition to common problems, in the case of schoolchildren attention is focused primarily on prevention, proper growth and development, later acne. A TCM practitioner can put together a suitable diet plan so that a student, who is already under pressure at school, can prosper and grow. Parents play a big role here, with no interest in the healthy diet of their children, nothing can be achieved. Older students usually have problems with acne, sometimes accidents that need convalescence, or the TCM practitioner is faced with chronic illnesses that are dealt with in the same way as adult illnesses of this kind. 


How does TCM therapy for a child look like? After an initial diagnosis, the TCM practitioner puts together an appropriate plan, in agreement with the parents, which may include drinking herbal mixtures (herbs can be supplied e.g. in the form of a soluble powder or tablets, so they are suitable for every age group), acupuncture pathways, that can be practiced at home by the parent him / herself as instructed (e.g. acupressure). Immune problems often involve mycotherapy, or the use of medicinal mushrooms (mostly in the form of tablets) as well as moxibustion, which is the warming up of specific points by a wormwood cigar. Even this method can be practiced at home as often as necessary according to the therapists recommendation. Eating and a healthy lifestyle play a major role in the lives of children, so parents are involved in a discussion in which they are taught about the principles of eating in accordance with TCM rules.


Therapeutic methods 

As is common during the initial visit to the doctor, an initial diagnosis is necessary at the start of TCM therapy. Once the problems are identified, the therapy design follows. Chinese medicine stands on five basic pillars: phytotherapy, acupuncture, dietetics, Qi Gong exercises and tui na massages. What does each method actually amount to?


Diagnosis also known as how do we know what’s wrong? 

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, the initial diagnosis is carried out by looking, listening, questioning and palpation. In practice, it looks like the practitioner and patient are having a detailed conversation about his / her health problem as well as general health (questioning). During this process, the practitioner is able to notice how the client speaks, whether it’s loud, quiet, moderate, whether the client makes any certain noises such as coughing, sounding hoarse etc. (listening). Then the practitioner inspects the colour of the patient’s face, or observes the places of associated with the problem (eczema, acne) and eventually examines the tongue (view). The tongue can be used to trace the general constitutional type of the client, i.e. to what health problems he / she is prone to, as well as to learn about the acute condition - for example nausea, inflammation etc. We observe the colour of the tongue, the size and shape of the body of the tongue, various shapes (grooves, dots, veins) and the coating, its strength and its possible outages. Finally it’s time for the diagnosis that comes from the pulse. The practitioner applies three fingers to the wrist, the place where the "western" pulse is also examined. He / she then checks the quality and speed of the pulse in 3 different positions and levels. The pulse is examined on both arms, as each corresponds to a different organ. Upon completion of the diagnosis, the practitioner determines the procedure and talks with the client about therapeutic methods that he / she would recommend in this particular case. 


Herbs in the spotlight 

Phytotherapy using Chinese herbs is a very effective way of dealing with all kinds of health problems. Chinese medicine uses both herbal and animal-derived treatments, as well as minerals and mushrooms (mycotherapy). A huge benefit of phytotherapy is the ability to create individual mixes for particular clients, taking into account their constitutions and innate tendencies. This is something that pharmacotherapy can not offer. However, herbs, given their natural character, need a longer time to start working. From this point of view, it is preferable to use pharmacotherapy, for example, in the case of serious and acute problems. Chinese medicine generally has excellent results in the field of prevention, dealing with chronic civilization diseases, and greatly assists with acute infections by not requiring ATB treatment, for example. This is especially appreciated by mothers of preschool children, where infections are recurring, for example, when a child starts attending kindergarten. On the contrary, in acute and severe conditions, it is advisable to seek medical advice. 

And how does pharmacotherapy actually work? After the initial diagnosis, the practitioner sets the so-called image or diagnosis of the client. Nowadays almost no one has only one image, but rather a combination of several different pathological conditions. In agreement with the client, it is necessary to set priorities in order to decide which problems will be dealt with first and which later. As the old Chinese used to say: "Good medicine is bitter." It is, therefore, advisable to alert the client to the specific taste of herbal infusions. Fortunately, todays time allows for various forms of mixtures. It is possible to offer the client the form of infusions that are the most powerful, but soluble powder or tablets are also available, which are, in turn, user-friendly. After that, the practitioner creates a suitable introductory blend and the client uses it as recommended. During the following check-ups, the state of the tongue and the pulse is monitored and, of course, mainly are the changes in the clinical picture of the client, which shows if his / her condition is improving. Sometimes the results of phytotherapy will take place quickly and the client reaches the one-month horizon without any difficulty. At other times, especially in the case of chronic illness, it is necessary to give the therapy time, usually a number of months.


Working with acupuncture points

In addition to phototherapy, another major therapeutic path in Chinese medicine is undoubtedly working with acupuncture points. Their stimulation can achieve a major improvement in health, especially when repeated several times. In traditional Chinese medicine, there are twelve regular and eight extraordinary pathways, which feature hundreds of points. After completing the diagnosis, it is up to the practitioner to select the points and how he / she links them. There are a number of subsystems that can be applied according to the clients needs. When it comes to stimulating points, we distinguish between acupuncture and acupressure. Acupuncture means puncturing a point with a needle, acupressure involves pressure stimulation of specific points, for example by a finger. There are many other ways in which to stimulate acupuncture points. These include, for example, electric stimulation, magnet, laser, heat.

 Electroacupuncture is an appropriate method, for example, for children who are afraid of a needle. Heat stimulation includes mainly moxibustion. It is the heating of selected acupuncture points with a cigar filled with wormwood. Moxibustion is an old method, very effective and pleasant. It is suitable for conditions of deficiency (colds, tiredness, digestive problems, etc.) and is great as a prevention to increase immunity either in children or adults. Like every method, moxibustion also has its its contraindications - inflammation, menstruation, feverish conditions, alcohol-induced states, hot flushes, abdomen and loin in pregnant women, etc. Even though you can carry moxibustion out at home, for example, to increase immunity in children, it is always necessary to follow the basic safety rules and modify them only after being trained by TCM practitioners.

 One of the supportive techniques for working with acupuncture points is, for example, cupping therapy. It is a relaxation method suitable especially for problems with the locomotive apparatus. The glass flask is heated and applied to the skin. Due to the under pressure that occurs, the skin is drawn into the flask and is left like that. Cupping affects deep skin layers which become oxygenated. It also helps induce blood circulation. Contraindications include, but are not limited to, skin diseases, open wounds, blood clotting disorders.


 Dietetic measures

 Another one of the five pillars of Chinese medicine is dietetics, in other words the right selection of foods and their preparation, with an emphasis on the individual constitution and health problems of the client. The ancient Chinese divided all foods according to temperature on a range from cold to fresh, neutral, warm and hot food. And since each of us is thermodynamically different, we all have to choose food that fits in with our type. If a client, for example, is warm-blooded he / she will need fresh food. A cold-blooded client will turn to more warm foods. In this sense, the practitioner recommends appropriate foods to the client, draws attention to the inappropriate foods, and gives the patient at least a basic insight into the rules of Chinese dietetics. Cooperation in this regard is a little different than in previous methods. The practitioner will provide information, but whether or not the client will follow the recommendations is just up to them. In the event that he / she decides to actively better their health, the success rate of therapy is much higher. However, if the client does not address the TCM dietetics at all, the probability and speed of improvement of the health condition is also reduced. 

In our climate zone, it is generally advisable to consume a warm foods. According to Chinese medicine our digestive system needs to be reasonably warm up. However, we are surrounded by a widespread excess of cold foods available (ice cream, beer, yogurt for breakfast, vegetable salads in the winter, etc.). Most clients come with some kind of disruption of digestion - fatigue, sweet tooth, frequent diarrhea etc. With a simple meal change, such as a hot breakfast, improvements occur within days or weeks. Other general recommendations include avoiding or at least limiting dairy products, industrially processed foods, food chemicals, and sugar. 


Qi Gong 

As is well known, exercises of all kinds should be included in a healthy lifestyle. In traditional Chinese medicine it is one of the main pillars for prevention, i.e., for maintaining health and for treating the pathology that is already in place. The translation of Qi Gong means work (Gong) with energy (qi). These are technically simple exercises or exercises that are best practiced daily and preferably in fresh air. People in today’s society mostly give out attention, they think about work, relationships, money, or analyze feelings, situations. However, it usually does not solve its problems because it only describes them, but does not change them qualitatively. Therefore, to make things change, a little introspection is needed, focusing your attention inside and tracking your internal processes without analysis or judgment. Qi Gong exercises can also be considered as introspective activity. Those who focus on the outside world will find it to be a light set of exercises. For those who are trying to focus their attention inside, Qi Gong can be a powerful means of influencing their health for the better. Experienced practitioners usually work by using all five pillars to give client the relief he / she needs as soon as possible and to prevent health problems from returning. Sometimes it is not easy. Although health problems can be resolved, they may be coming back over and over again, because there is still an impulse in the clients life (stress, lack of rest, difficult life situations - e.g. single mother, lonely senior, etc.). Qi Gong exercises are an excellent way to maintain harmony even after basic therapy. TCM practitioners will teach the client various exercises, and then he / she can practice them at home. During check-ups he / she can discuss various uncertainties or new experiences with the exercise with the practitioner.


Tui Na 

The fifth pillar is a tui na. These are special massages that are performed over clothing. Tui na is suited to treat movement problems and, thanks to specific techniques, it can release tension in tendons, joints or muscles. At the same time, it uses the knowledge of acupuncture points that stimulate the massage properly and are influenced by the main organs and their functions. 


Not every therapist is the same 

When one decides to try Chinese medicine, he must first find a good therapist. It is best to ask acquaintances that have experience and go to someone based on a reference. As with other people who offer services, it is necessary for both the practitioner and client to "click". The client should feel safe and comfortable during visits and should trust the practitioner. Every practitioner who has sufficient education starts with an initial diagnosis, which is like an entrance exam and provides the practitioner with valuable information important for further work. He / she should not only act professionally, but also have good managerial skills. A good practitioner honors good communication. Though few people pick up calls due to working with clients, the principle is that they call clients back. Responding to SMS messages should be commonplace. If you talk to a therapist about sending a herbal mixture and it does not come in about a week, it says something about him / her. Simply, deciding to take care of a client shows interest. If you feel like your therapist is not interested in you, find another. 


In China Care we appreciate our clients and we support an individual approach. We want to be great guides on your journey to health.


Jana Škrletová

China Care Therapist


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