Ok, ok. I’ll be the first to admit.
I’m a huge dork when it comes to this stuff.
But did you know that Chinese medicine goes far beyond acupuncture needles and herbs?
There are oodles of theories, philosophies, and strategies that all come together to create the beautiful, complicated whole that is considered to be Chinese medicine.
Sure, most Chinese medicine practitioners who practice “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM) will have a similar approach.
But when you move beyond the rudimentary “this point treats that disease” kind of practice, you’ll find hundreds of practitioners with styles as different as winter and summer.
Still, all Chinese medicine styles are based on the same basic principles.
While treatment modalities like acupuncture, herbs, bodywork, and qigong have been passed down from master to disciple, generation after generation, Chinese medicine as a whole is actually based on ancient texts which talk about a whole lot more than meridians.
These texts, including the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, The Dao De Jing, The Yi Jing, and many more, overflow with strategies and analysis on how to live a healthy balanced life.
In other words, the books that guide Chinese medicine don’t just tell the professionals what to do.
They can actually act as a guide for every human being on the planet on how to live a vibrant life.
In fact, the Yellow Emperor claims that if you live in perfect harmony with these principles you can live for hundreds of years, but in the Inner Cannon he laments that “modern people” (those that lived at his time, some 5000 years ago) have lost their way.
If that’s true then we haven’t learned much in 5000 years!
But even if you don’t live to be 389 years old, you can still benefit from the wisdom that is shared in these ancient texts.
Drawing directly from observation, these books go deep into the very essence of what it means to be human.
They reveal what it means to be healthy and balanced, what it means to be alive, and ultimately, the nature of the Universe as a whole.
Amongst these observations is that life comes in phases, as is reflected in the seasons of the year.
Each season is associated with an “element”, a direction, a flavor, a sound, a color, specific organs in the body, an emotion, and so on.
The fundamental principle of Chinese medicine is that things will always change, and each phase of change has specific and somewhat predictable patterns associated with it.
When there is disease it is an indication that some phase of the cycle is excessive, deficient, or stuck.
Chinese medicine practitioners look at the signs and symptoms being presented by the patient and try to figure out which season pattern disease manifestations fit into.
Since it’s approaching the end of autumn and beginning of winter here in the Pacific Northwest, let’s take those as examples.
Autumn is represented by the west, like a setting sun, with the energetic movement flowing in and down.
Things slow down in the Autumn phase, storage is emphasized, and priorities are made clearer as nature prepares for the hibernation of the Winter phase.
If a person fights against this energetic shift, trying to stay awake as long as they did in the summer for example, trying to push forward and turn outward during the autumn and winter phases, then pathology will inevitably arise.
To live in harmony with autumn and winter, to “go with the flow” of these seasons, you’ve got to slow down, sleep more, eat warming foods, and enjoy more solitude and reflective activities like journaling, walking in nature, reading, meditating and so on.
If you don’t, pathology might not be visible right away, but it will take a toll in the long run.
Autumn is also associated with Metal, which has the qualities of boundaries, justice, cutting, condensation, release, reflection, nostalgia, melancholy etc.
Along a similar vein, Autumn and Metal are associated with grief.
Letting go of what was inherently comes with mourning, even if we know the next phase will be great.
If we don’t let ourselves feel and grieve in the loss of what is being released during the autumn phase, then we stifle the flow of the full cycle, and again, pathology eventually arises.
The Organ associated with Autumn and Metal are the Lung and the Large Intestine.
When the a patient comes in with any showing signs of any of the above qualities, a Chinese medicine practitioner will investigate into the Lung and Large Intestine to see if there is a deeper imbalance there.
Winter is associated with Water, which is also related to the Kidneys and Bladder.
The energy of winter can be thought of as the potential energy that is stored within a seed that is planted below the soil.
Rest and meditative activities are essential in the winter if you want to have extra energy and pushing power in the springtime.
Ultimately the Chinese medicine practitioner’s job is to guide the patient towards greater harmony within themselves.
Unfortunately this is where practitioners often fall short.
Sticking someone full of needles will help in the short term, but the most profound healing always comes from within the patient.
While needles and/or herbs alone can sometimes bring about shifts that seem downright magical, the world would be a better place if people were taught to take responsibility for their own health on a day-to-day basis.
So here are some questions for you:
How are you shifting your lifestyle to complement the current season?
What foods are you eating now, how much are you sleeping, what activities are you doing more or less of?
And what internal resistance do you have, if any, to the qualities of this phase? Do you try to live the same way throughout the year? Do you berate yourself for your energy level, or do you think you “should” want to do more or less of certain things when, in fact, it might just be the energy of the season influencing you?
What could you do (or let go of) in order to live in greater harmony with the current season?
Think about these questions, maybe journal on them, and please leave a comment if you feel inspired.
I’d love to hear about your experiences!
’Til next time,
Love, Hugs, and Pumpkin Soup,