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The Basics of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

I find it fascinating that in today’s world we have more information about every single aspect of life, yet we seem to know less about how to live.

All the ‘chatter’ on the internet has made us closer in so many ways, yet the complexity of information creates a mystery that it is almost too difficult to understand our own bodies, much less its relationship with energy.

One major paradigm that has integrated energy into our body’s state of health and wellbeing is Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for over 3000 years and even in that course of time, it has yet to be fully integrated into Western medicine. Whilst most doctors would have heard of Chinese medicine, the basics of how it works would probably shock most of them.

Fundamentally in TCM energy flows through the meridians in perfect balance unless disturbed by internal or external forces that affect 5 key elements of life.

The five key elements are found in nature which is earth, metal, fire, wood and water. Each element is related to an organ, all of which is captured in a overarching 5 phase chart.

Traditional Chinese practitioners also comprehend that emotions affect your energy and thus how your body functions on a day-to-day basis. In the Chinese system, there are 7 main emotions all of which relate to a particular organ and the 5 phase chart.

Organs create an emotion and they also are affected by an emotion.

Organ Emotion
Heart Joy
Liver Anger
Lungs Worry and Sadness
Spleen Thought
Kidneys Fear and Shock

Some emotions also give rise to other emotions, which can make the understanding of this relationship even trickier.

In order to quell emotional problems, Chinese medicine advocates natural solutions such as certain foods, whereby their flavours can boost certain emotions and reduce overstimulated emotions.

I know this may sound very strange but remember this has been observed over thousands of years. I did say it would shock most western healthcare practitioners, didn’t I?

There are several other theories that comprise the entire Traditional Chinese Medicine system but what is apparent is that the energy system is also divided into a three-component where Jing is mainly related to body energy, Chi is related to Mind energy and Shen to spiritual or soul energy.

Within this context, there are 8 guiding principles to help treat the energy imbalances when we are sick or unwell. These 8 principles relate to four pairs of opposing forces.

The first two guiding principles is Internal vs. External. Internal organs are often affected by an emotional issue, whereas external issues often arise from a foreign bug or invasion from outside the body.

The second set of principles is Hot vs. Cold which can give rise to fevers or chills, depending on the condition.

The third set of principles is Full vs. Empty where full often arises from acute conditions while empty often indicates chronic syndromes or some form of deficiency.

The final set of principles is a synthesis of all other categories and is commonly known as Yin vs Yang.

I find it fascinating that none of this was taught to me in medical school, yet it plays a critical role to how we can keep up our performance at work, prevent illness and even help our recovery from disease.

What was your one most memorable experience with Chinese Medicine?

About the Author: Dr Avnesh Ratnanesan

Dr Avi is a medical doctor with broad healthcare sector experience including hospitals, biotech, pharmaceuticals and the wellness industry. He is a leading expert who coaches and consults to senior executives, entrepreneurs, practitioners, organisations and governments.