While we in the West are more familiar with the way doctors practice traditional medicine for healing, the ancient Eastern practice of medicine known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM), has recently become popular in the West as an alternative to traditional medicine.  In order to understand the way illness is treated in traditional Chinese medicine, we need to understand their view of illness in the human body.

Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the Taoist philosophy that the human body is a universe with a set of complete and interconnected systems.  Those systems usually work in balance to maintain the healthy function of the body.  This is the principle of yin and yang.  These two opposites are constantly in motion, creating a fluctuating balance in a healthybody.  Illness occurs when either yin or yang is in a state of prolonged excess or deficiency.  Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners are trained to view the body, mind and spirit as one system and to treat the disease in a holistic manner.  The balance of yin and yang is considered with respect to qi (breath or life force), blood, jing (essence), other bodily fluids, the five elements, emotions and the soul or spirit (shen).

Typical therapies for traditional Chinese medicine include acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Qi Gong exercises.  Acupuncture treatment stimulates certain areas of the external body along the body's meridian lines.  Herbal medicine acts on zang-fu organs internally and Qi Gong aims to restore the flow inside the network through the regulation of qi.

When seeking treatment from a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, you will usually be asked questions about your emotional and mental life as well as your physical symptoms.  You may also have your pulse taken several times, once for each internal organ, and the color and texture of your tongue will be checked.  The practitioner will then create a customized treatment plan designed to improve your overall health, instead of just for the illness you sought treatment for.

In most cases, the practitioner will use acupuncture to stimulate specific points along your meridians in order to bring qi back into balance.  He may also use moxibustion (application of small mounds of burning herbs), cupping (use of suction cups), or deep tissue massage.  You may also get a prescription for a combination of herbs and ingredients formulated to correct whatever imbalances the practitioner thinks may be causing your illness.  You would typically brew these herbs into a tea, or they may come in pill or extract form.  Lastly, you may be asked to practice Qi Gong or Tai Chi (slow and gentle martial arts that combine breathing, movement, and meditation) to balance and strengthen your qi.

Depending on which treatments are used, traditional Chinese medicine can be quite safe and effective.  Acupuncture is usually quite safe as long as your practitioner uses properly sterilized or disposable needles to prevent infection.  You need to let your acupuncturist know if you are taking pain relievers as they can exacerbate bruising from the needles.  The use of herbal combinations can be a bit of a problem.  Many Chinese herbalists won't tell you what's in the mixture which could contain trace amounts of dangerous substances such as mercury or arsenic.  You should let her practitioner know about any drugs you are taking and let your doctor know of any herbs you are taking as certain herbs and mixtures may adversely interact with the drugs.

If you are looking for an alternative to traditional medicine, and would like to treat your illness in a more holistic manner, traditional Chinese medicine may be your answer.

By Sandra Hishinuma, A self-proclaimed information addict, Sandra H. has come to the conclusion that knowledge is power when it comes to finding alternative healing methods to traditional medicine. The more you know, the better choices you make toward choosing alternative healing methods. 

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