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Traditional Chinese Medicine – An Introduction

Chinese Medicine - Herbs and Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese medicine, also referred to as Oriental medicine, is practiced by more than 25% of the world's population. However, it is only now that Western people are getting familiar with the methods of traditional Chinese medicine and they seem to like it. In the United States, the number of people preferring to undergo traditional Chinese medicine methods such as acupressure, acupuncture, qigong, deep massage and herbal therapy is increasing.

Traditional Chinese medicine methods are holistic and cover almost all aspects of life. There is acupuncture that deals with prevention and treatment of illnesses; and herbal remedies and diet, which are also for treatment and promoting good health. Traditional Chinese medicine also advocates physical exercises for self-healing and health maintenance. One method is Qigong (pronounced as “Chee Kung”). Qigong, which is a wonderful exercise program, involves coordination of posture, meditation, breathing patterns and slow, regulated limb movements. It is growing in popularity and you can easily find Qigong classes in your community. Try looking for one using the yellow pages.

The world wide acceptance of traditional Chinese medicine is evidenced by the recognition given to it by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO). According to these organizations, traditional Chinese medicine can be regarded as a viable alternative to Western medicine. In addition, a number of health insurance companies now pay claims for acupuncture treatments. Now, this is be good news to those who rely on acupuncture to relieve pain and improve circulation.


Acupuncture came from China where it has been practiced for more than 3,000 years.  It is the most famous form of traditional Chinese medicine among the non-Chinese who favor it not only for its ability to cure chronic pains but also because its treatment is a preventative method as it balances the Qi (pronounced as “Chee.”)

Qi is the life force, the vital energy that permeates all creation.  All things are said to come from Qi. Qi flows and connects everything to each other. Qi is the body’s source for natural healing and any imbalance in a person's Qi can result to all sorts of ailments. Stimulation of the body’s acupuncture points releases blocked Qi. When Qi is able to flow freely and naturally, it helps the body heal itself.

Prior to the treatment proper, the acupuncturist asks a number of questions, some of which may surprise American patients as the questions can be very private. However, these questions are necessary.  They are really about the patient's health practices and habits, which would help the acupuncturist in locating where the blockages are. The questions range from listing one's sleeping patterns to the usual daily meals and the number of times the patient moves their bowel in a 24-hour period.

During the treatment, the patient is asked to lie on a massage table, face down.  If this were done in the East, the patient would have been in a sitting position. The practitioner will then insert pliable, hair-thin needles into some of the body’s 2,000+ points. These acupuncture points connect to 14 pathways or meridians where the Qi moves.

The needles used for acupuncture vary in size and length, each are for a specific ailment and body point. They are disposable, pre-sterilized and made of stainless steel eliminating any risk of infection.

Patients reportedly feel almost nothing when the needles are inserted. The needles are inserted just below the surface and left in place for approximately 1 hour. Since the process is so relaxing and the atmosphere is soothing with the lights dimmed, patients often fall asleep during the treatment.

Herbal Remedies

Experts recommend that the use of acupuncture be accompanied by the use of herbal remedies, another form of traditional Chinese medicine. Following the holistic approach, traditional Chinese medicine values the interconnectedness of the human body with emotions and the thinking process.

This explains why people suffering from chronic pains are also feeling depressed. As such, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine will often prescribe the use of some herbs to help their patients relax. This is referred to as tonic herbalism. Some of the herbs used are so common, you must already have them in your kitchen.

Ginseng and green tea are two of of the most commonly used herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. There are still others that are considered "warm" foods, meant to help patients maintain optimal health as well as restore their balance of Qi. These foods include rice, noodles, egg whites, broccoli, chicken and fish. It comes as no surprise then that these items are often included in Eastern cooking.

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Related Reading: Also see an introduction to Native American Medicine and Tracing the Roots of Alternative Medicine.