Last updated on November 24th, 2023.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has become more and more popular in western countries as the years have gone on. But, what exactly do TCM techniques include?
Overall, TCM techniques improve the flow of vital energy, or Qi, in the body, as well as balance Yin and Yang. TCM uses the five elements (wood, fire, water, earth, and metal) to do this through techniques including acupuncture, moxibustion, and tongue diagnosis.
Below, we’ll explain everything you need to know before you start TCM. Keep reading to learn more!
What is TCM and Where Did It Start?
Traditional Chinese Medicine, often referred to as TCM, is an ancient form of medicine that has evolved throughout thousands of years, dating back to the early Zhou Dynasty years. Although the practice has evolved, very little has changed.
While traditional western medicine focuses on treating illness and injuries by looking at the individual body part or parts, TCM uses a more holistic approach and considers your whole physical and mental wellbeing. It focuses on balancing your energy and harmony through two central concepts: Qi and Yin/Yang.
What is Qi?
“Qi” or “Chi” is sometimes referred to as either “life energy” or “vital energy.” Balancing and maintaining Qi is a vital part of TCM principles. It’s believed to run throughout the body at all times, and it constantly changes based on how the mind and body are feeling. Each TCM treatment offers its own way of promoting and maintaining Qi in the body, so it’s very important to consider when thinking about Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments.
What are Yin and Yang?
People tend to be more familiar with the concept of “yin and yang” than they are with Qi. Yin and Yang describe the qualities of Qi, and the entire concept is based on the belief that everything in life contains a bit of its opposite, so balance is key. Yin encompasses the negative things in life, while yang encompasses the positive aspects. These ideas play out in your body, and balancing the Yin and Yang of Qi is key to feeling healthy and alert.
During Moxibustion, dried herbs such as mugwort are burned close to the skin to warm and invigorate the blood. It’s believed to stimulate the flow of Qi in the body, most notably in the kidney organ-meridian. Historically, it’s been very successful in treating the pain associated with the menstrual cycle.
Acupuncture is perhaps the most well-known TCM technique. In this practice, fine needles are inserted gently into superficial skin at particular acupuncture points. Every one of these points is connected by the 12 main organ-meridians, which allow Qi to flow between your body’s surface and internal organs. Acupuncture is accepted as a valid treatment for many conditions, most notably pain relief and managing the side effects of chemotherapy.
One of the most interesting techniques of TCM is tongue diagnosis. It is believed that you can analyze the function of several organs throughout the body by analyzing the following aspects of the tongue:
A tongue diagnosis is a visual exam, believed to detect different bodily functions based on where on the tongue the practitioner is looking. Some of these functions include:
All the techniques used by TCM practitioners come back to three main concepts: Qi, Yin and Yang, and the five elements.
What are the 5 Elements of TCM and How Do They Relate to the Body?
The theory of the five elements has been an integral part of TCM since approximately 400 B.C. Each element is associated with different organ-meridians, emotions, and sensory organs. They include:
Part of TCM principles includes a belief that each element has its own job to do, and that each element is connected to the others. If one cannot do their job properly, it affects another’s ability to do so, as well.
Two cycles are associated with the five elements: the generating cycle and the controlling cycle. In the generating cycle:
- Wood generates fire
- Fire generates earth
- Earth generates metal
- Metal generates water
- Water generates wood
And in the controlling cycle:
- Wood controls earth
- Earth controls water
- Water controls fire
- Fire controls metal
- Metal controls wood
These two cycles cement the belief that, if one element is unbalanced, it may not be able to generate or control the next properly. Now, let’s discuss what each of the five elements control.
Wood controls the liver organ-meridian system, as well as the gallbladder, tendons, and eyes. Because the liver aids in digestion and detoxification, the liver organ-meridian is responsible for ensuring both blood and Qi can flow through the body.
Fire governs the heart organ-meridian system, regulating the cardiovascular system and nervous system. In addition to the heart, fire also controls the small intestine, blood vessels, and tongue. The heart is seen as your spirit’s resting place in TCM, meaning the fire element needs to be balanced to ensure health and wellbeing.
Earth is the element responsible for both the stomach and spleen organ-meridian systems. It also governs the muscles and mouth. Earth is vital for most aspects of the digestive system, and it’s especially important to ensure it’s balanced during stressful times.
Metal controls the lung organ-meridian system, including the lungs, nose, throat, and skin. It’s responsible for the absorption of Qi from the air, or breathing, as well as Defensive Qi. This type of Qi helps your body defend itself against illness.
Water is in charge of the kidney organ-meridian system, which includes the bladder and all bodily fluids. Having water balanced in your body is essential for balancing your yin and yang, and is often seen as the foundation of good health.
Where Can I Find Out More Information About TCM?
The best way to learn more about TCM is to find a certified practitioner. If you aren’t aware of any TCM practitioners in your area, your best bet is to look on the ACAOM website. This organization accredits Oriental medicine schools, so they should be able to help you find a local practitioner.
Keep in mind that TCM should not entirely replace traditional western medicine. Always follow your doctor’s orders, but incorporating TCM principles into your daily life can complement your treatment routine and boost your results.