Unlike western medicine that aims to treat specific conditions, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believes that a physical symptom is part of a bigger problem. The Qi (pronounced as “chee”), is a life force energy that flows freely through the meridians to alleviate pain, improve sleep, promote healthy digestion and overall well-being. In a broad sense, it is almost like an invisible force that is present in things you see and cannot see—in the air, on the ground beneath your feet, in your thoughts and emotions—EVERYWHERE.
It is the fluidity of this abstract concept that makes one’s life harmonious, and its manifestations come in the form of Yin (material) and Yang (immaterial). Yang is the kinetic vibration present in a matter that is the yin. As you see in the yin and yang symbol, these forces are married tied together in an endless pursuit of balance and harmony.
So what the role of Qi, yin, and yang in TCM?
Even though these energies seem larger than life, sometimes they get stuck in a rut, and they need human intervention to go back to saving the world. When your PMS is so severe that you are dysfunctional during your red days, it might be a sign that you are not responding well to the changes that your yin and yang are leading you to, thus causing a disharmony in the form of a painful period. TCM practitioners will help you see the bigger picture and treat all physical manifestations through needles, cups, herbs, even smoke.
If you are afraid of the needle, there are other techniques to achieve an abundance of qi in your life:
You have probably seen Michael Phelps and other American athletes sporting those red splotches in major sports events. These rouge circles are caused by suction cups typically made of glass. To heat the glasses, some practices soak a piece of burning cotton will be placed inside. The cotton will then be removed, and the heated cup will be placed upside down on the skin. The cooling down of the air inside creates a vacuum that pulls soft tissues toward it, increasing the blood flow in the area. The capillaries ruptured by the pressure causes the discoloration, but the whole experience is relaxing. This technique is usually used to treat respiratory problems.
It’s not every day that you intentionally scrape your skin, but when you do, your back thanks you for it. If you think needles are weird enough to use in therapy, this technique makes use of stranger objects such as a ceramic spoon, coin, rock, or animal bone in stimulating blood flow in the body’s acupoints. The smooth object of your choice would repeatedly be stroked on your oiled-up skin from the spine to the direction of the meridians to release toxins and stimulate blood circulation. This method is used to treat chronic pain and fever.
Tui Na Massage
If the only Asian massage you know is the Thai massage, you have missed out on the benefits of Tui Na enjoyed by other people for over 2,000 years now. Tui Na makes use of rhythmic compression in the form of pressing, rolling, rubbing, kneading, to name a few. Massage therapists make use of their fingers, hands, and even elbows on acupoints to stimulate blood flow and treat musculoskeletal injuries like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tendonitis, and bursitis. If you are over chemical based treatments and all their side effects, you can try Tui Na to solve your physical or mental health problem.
There are various approaches in this technique depending on the patterns of your illness but in general, sweating in Chinese medicine aims to “release the exterior.” Induced perspiration frees the body from pathogens hiding in the interior of the body. For exterior-cold-excess patterns like the common cold, you can release the exterior by eating spicy, warm herbs like ginger, drinking hot water, wrapping yourself in a thick blanket while sleeping, or sitting in the sauna. In exterior-hot-excess patterns, perspiration fights the unneeded warmth with cool herbs like mint or honeysuckle. Other patterns which use either type of herbs are the wind-water pattern such as acute edema and acute nephritis; and exterior type pattern exhibiting chicken pox, measles, and other allergic reactions like hives.
Believe it or not, cannabis is not the only herbs getting lit. Moxibustion burns dried Artemisia vulgaris to warm the blood and reinvigorate the Qi. It is used to relieve menstrual pain, which is also an expertise of acupuncturist Jill Blakeway.
If there’s anyone who knows alternative medicine, it’s the Chinese. Chinese herbology commonly uses ginger, licorice, bark, and ginseng as an alternative to chemical-based treatments. These natural ingredients are made into teas, capsules, granules, and liquid extracts to suit the preference of patients. However, the effectiveness of this approach is yet to be proven.
While these ancient gems may be considered as quackery in the western world, they have treated millions on the other side of the globe for centuries. Limited studies were dedicated to discovering the secrets of these techniques but those that did attest to their effectiveness in treating a range of diseases both in the body and in mind. In the US, TCM practitioners are regulated, and some health care plans even cover the costs of these treatments especially acupuncture.