China’s Gift to the Healing Arts

To fmd the roots of Chinese medicine, you’d have to dig back some 4,500 years. That’s when the Fire Emperor Shen Nong first experimented with medicinal herbs. The herbs that he identified were later recorded in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Classic Materia Medica of Shen Nong), which dates from around 200 B.C., according to Kevin V. Ergil, Ph.D., dean of the Pacific Institute of Oriental Medicine in New York City.

Also around 200 B.C., the Yellow Emperor Huang Di wrote the Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic). Considered by many Chinese physicians to be required reading, the Nei Jing establishes the framework for what would become Chinese medicine.

To understand Chinese medicine, you need to suspend-at least momentarily­your knowledge of the Western definitions of health and disease. Chinese medicine teaches that life is in perpetual flux. “Health;” then, refers to an ability to adapt to this state of flux and to the physical and emotional changes that it engenders. “Disease,” on the other hand, describes an inability to cope with change, a disruption of resilience.

This philosophy stems from Chinese medicine’s fundamental belief in Tao, which means “the whole” -the seamless fabric of matter and energy that connects all things in the universe. Tao teaches that all things in the universe depend on one another and influence one another. It views humans as an integral part of nature, and vice versa.

The Chinese believe that Tao consists of two opposite yet complementary phenomena called yin and yang. Within the body, yin and yang manifest as three distinct forces: qi, Blood, and Moisture. (In writings about Chinese medicine, terms such as Blood and Moisture are capitalized to denote their non­traditional usage.) Qi is life energy. Blood is more than the red stuff that flows through your veins and arteries. It regulates all of the body’s tissues as well as metabolism, or the burning of calories for energy. And Moisture isn’t just water and other fluids. Rather, it controls the body’s internal environment.

When making diagnoses and crafting treatment regimens, a Chinese medical practitioner considers the status of qi, Blood, and Moisture in the body. He is also alert to other forces that influence qi, Blood, and Moisture. These include the five fundamental elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water); the five seasons (Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn, and Winter); and the five climates (Wind, Heat, Dampness, Dryness, and Cold).

All three sets of forces also influence the 10 organ networks. In Chinese medicine, the organ networks are not distinct anatomical structures but rather constellations of physical and psychological functions.

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