Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) is one of the oldest continuous systems of medicine in history, with recorded instances dating as far back as two thousand years before the birth of Christ. This is in sharp contrast to the Western forms of health care, which have been in existence for a much shorter time span (the American Medical Association, the largest health care member association in the United States, was formed in 1847, some 3,800 years after the first mention of TCM.
Chinese medicine is quite complex and can be difficult for some people to comprehend. This is because TCM is based, at least in part, on the Taoist belief that we live in a universe in which everything is interconnected. What happens to one part of the body affects every other part of the body. The mind and body are not viewed separately, but as part of an energetic system. Similarly, organs and organ systems are viewed as interconnected structures that work together to keep the body functioning.
Many of the concepts emphasized in TCM have no true counterpart in Western medicine. One of these concepts is qi (pronounced "chee"), which is considered a vital force or energy responsible for controlling the workings of the human mind and body. Qi flows through the body via channels, or pathways, which are called meridians. There are a total of 20 meridians: 12 primary meridians, which correspond to specific organs, organ systems or functions, and eight secondary meridians. Imbalances in the flow of qi cause illness; correction of this flow restores the body to balance.
Many people often equate the practice of acupuncture with the practice of TCM. This is not entirely true. While acupuncture is the most often practiced component of TCM, it is simply that – a component, an important piece of a much larger puzzle. TCM encompasses several aspects to it traditionally known as the Eight Branches.
The Eight Branches consist of Meditation (know thyself), Exercise, Nutrition, Astrology, Feng Shui (the art of placement), Bodywork (tui na), Herbal Medicine, and finally Acupuncture. The goal of the TCM doctor is to help the client bring as many of these aspects into balance as possible. Obviously the client has to take responsibility for some of these "lifestyle" adjustments. This is a very important aspect of holistic medicine- the client has to take an active role in their healing process. The doctor is only a facilitator or catalyst to the healing process. Ultimately, on a deep level, true healing comes from within.
Acupuncture is the insertion of tiny solid stainless steel needles into the body. At the core of Chinese medicine is the notion that a type of life force, or energy, known as qi (pronounced "chee") flows through energy pathways (meridians) in the body. Each meridian corresponds to one organ, or group of organs, that governs particular bodily functions. The needles are gently placed into specific areas along the meridians as well as "extra" points that commonly coorespond to muscle trigger points. Achieving the proper flow of qi is thought to create health and wellness.
Qi maintains the dynamic balance of yin and yang within the body. The theory of yin and yang pre-dates written history and has its roots in ancient Taoism. Yin and yang are interdependent complimentary opposites and eloquently describe the interplay of the energetic forces that are in constant flux throughout the universe. According to this theory everything in nature has both yin and yang aspects to it. A classic example would be fire being yang and water being yin. An imbalance between these forces results in "dis-ease" and the manifestation of symptoms. The ultimate goal of the acupuncturist is to bring yin and yang into harmony.
Traditional Chinese medicine brings to mind acupuncture and the use of natural herbs as healing remedies. Cupping is a lesser-known treatment that is also part of Oriental medicine, one that can provide an especially pleasant experience. One of the earliest documentations of cupping can be found in the work titled A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, which was written by a Taoist herbalist by the name of Ge Hong and which dates all the way back to 300 AD.
Cupping is the term applied to a technique that uses small glass cups or bamboo jars as suction devices that are placed on the skin. There are several ways that a practitioner can create the suction in the cups. One method involves swabbing rubbing alcohol onto the bottom of the cup, then lighting it and putting the cup immediately against the skin. Suction can also be created by placing an inverted cup over a small flame, or by using an alcohol-soaked cotton pad over an insulating material (like leather) to protect the skin, then lighting the pad and placing an empty cup over the flame to extinguish it. Flames are never used near the skin and are not lit throughout the process of cupping, but rather are a means to create the heat that causes the suction within the small cups.
Once the suction has occurred, the cups can be gently moved across the skin (often referred to as gliding cupping). The suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into the cup. Cupping is much like the inverse of massage - rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most patients, this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation. Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for about ten minutes while the patient relaxes. This is similar to the practice of Tui Na, a traditional Chinese medicine massage technique that targets acupuncture points as well as painful body parts, and is well known to provide relief through pressure.
Generally, cupping is combined with acupuncture in one treatment, but it can also be used alone. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system (which makes it an excellent treatment for high blood pressure). Cupping is used to relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, rheumatism, respiratory issues, as well as many other conditions. In fact, respiratory conditions are one of the most common maladies that cupping is used to relieve. Three thousand years ago, in the earliest Chinese documentation of cupping, it was recommended for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis!
Like acupuncture, cupping follows the lines of the meridians. There are five meridian lines on the back, and these are where the cups are usually placed. Using these points, cupping can help to align and move the qi, as well as target more specific maladies. Cupping is one of the best deep-tissue therapies available. It is thought to affect tissues up to four inches deep from the external skin.Toxins can be released, blockages can be cleared, and veins and arteries can be refreshed. Even hands, wrists, legs, and ankles can be ‘cupped,' thus applying the healing to specific organs that correlate with these points.
Tui Na is the oldest known system of massage. Originating in China, it is recorded in the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine since 2300 B.C. as one of the five major therapies of the time. Tui Na has remained an organized and systematically developed system of massage since that time. Currently in China Tui Na is taught as a separate, but equal field of study in the major traditional Chinese medical colleges. Tui Na doctors receive the same demanding training as acupuncturists and herbalists and enjoy the same level of professional respect.
Tui Na uses the Traditional Chinese Medical theory of meridians or pathways as its basic therapeutic orientation. Through the application of massage and manipulation techniques, Tui Na seeks to establish a more harmonious flow of Qi energy through the system of channels and collaterals, allowing the body to naturally heal itself. Tui Na methods include the use of hand and arm techniques to massage the soft tissue (muscles and tendons) of the body, stimulation of acupressure points to directly affect the flow of Qi energy through the system of channels and collaterals, and manipulation techniques to realign the musculo-skeletal and ligamentous relationships (bone setting). External herbal poultices, compresses, liniments and salves are also used to enhance the other therapeutic methods.
Tui Na is now being popularized in this country as a powerful therapeutic extension of traditional western massage methods. It was originally introduced to the public by Taoist Master Share K. Lew at the Taoist Sanctuary in North Hollywood in 1975, when he began to teach the Taoist Elixer style (Tao Tan Pai) of Tui Na massage.Tui Na's simplicity and focus upon specific problems, rather than a more generalized treatment, makes it both an excellent alternative and/or extension of Swedish-style massage.
Tui Na massage has proven over the centuries that it is an effective therapeutic tool while its theory and accomplishments are well documented. The best way to learn about Tui Na massage is to experience its benefits and pleasure for yourself!