About Traditional Chinese Medicine

The roots of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are grounded in the history of civilization itself. In fact, archeological evidence from the Bronze Age (16th - 11th century BC) unearthed stone surgical tools and seed remnants resembling modern day Chinese medical implements and herbs.

The most famous ancient text, the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), widely believed to reach publication 2,500 years ago, simply compiled records of major principals already in use among Chinese medical practitioners.

Chinese medicine has a rich tradition of scholar philosophers, who studied, practiced and trained others in various theories of the medicine. By the early 3rd Century, physician and statesman Zhang Zhongjing had penned major texts summarizing the uses of Chinese herbal formulas.

Chinese herbal medicine is based on the careful observation of the qualities, temperatures, flavors and actions of more than 6,000 medicinal substances. A Chinese "herb" or medicinal may be a plant root, mineral, flower or food. Examples include fennel, chrysanthemum flowers, gypsum and licorice root.

Patients of TCM all receive a customized treatment based on their individual signs, symptoms and needs. To make a diagnosis, practitioners of acupuncture and Chinese herbology essentially collect data on the patient -- ranging from the qualities of the pulse, visual appearance of the tongue, along with the evaluation of signs and symptoms.

The diagnosis will consider whether a condition is more Yin (internal) or more Yang (external), hot or cool and many other factors. Practitioners also may focus on the channel or organ the condition primarily affects and how deep it has penetrated into the body.

Elements such as Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood help the physician further understand a patient. For example, a hot stomach and cold spleen -- organs represented by the Earth element -- could manifest in acid reflux and abdominal bloating. This diagnostic process represents a highly specific and extremely thorough medical system that treats the root and branch of symptoms with a variety of powerful tools. It's no wonder that Chinese medicine is still very much alive today, thriving everywhere from hospitals, hospices and military settings in the East and West.

About Ayurveda

Although they are separate systems with distinct traditions, Ayurveda shares common ground with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both have sophisticated herbal traditions that evaluate medicinals with similar criteria. In fact, many herbs are common to both systems. Sandalwood, black pepper, calamus and cardamom are examples of both Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs.

Ayurveda uses a classification system similar to the Chinese elemental system to understand health, human nature and natural forces. Vata, for example, represents the forces and interactions of space and air. A person with a Vata dosha or constitution is more likely to be energetic and creative and to have dry skin and prominent joints.

The Pitta dosha exemplifies the interaction of fire and water elements, which when balanced allows for healthy digestion and metabolism. Pitta types have strong appetites and intellects. Negative aspects of a Pitta nature include impatience and even anger. As in Traditional Chinese Medicine, every aspect of life is considered in Ayurvedic medicine, including negative and positive, darkness and light, dryness and moisture and other polarities.

The earth and water balance represented by Kapha dosha typically creates a stable and nurturing personality. Kapha types have lustrous skin and often enjoy good health. If they do experience illness, Kaphas are prone to obesity and lethargy.

Ayurvedic practitioners can choose herbal remedies or therapies that either enhance one's dosha if a certain aspect is weak or calm a dosha in excess. For example, a Vata person with a jam-packed schedule, erratic diet and inadequate rest may develop anxiety. Massage with warming and moistening sesame oil will help a Vata feel grounded and nourished.

Ayurveda includes a rich variety of hands-on therapies such as massage (abhyanga) and basti, or the placement of medicated oils over various organs and joints. Herbal and nutritional therapy in Ayurveda considers the nature of food, herbs and illness to treat health imbalances. For example, an overheated Pitta with digestive symptoms such as ulcers or acid reflux should avoid coffee, alcohol and spicy foods and instead consume cooling and juicy foods like celery and avocados.

Both Ayurveda and Chinese medicine involve customized treatments based on the knowledge of a patient's signs, symptoms and history. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment in either modality. These ancient medical systems have retained their hands-on therapies like acupuncture and massage to not only treat disease, but also work with the body's natural forces to promote healing and wellness.

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