Overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine

chinese meridiansTraditional Chinese medicine is a fascinating form of healing that has been around for thousands of years and is still relevant in today’s times. Though there is speculation regarding the earliest practice of medicine by the ancient Chinese, evidence does point to the fact that healers in the second or first century BC during the Shang dynasty, might have used metal needles to perform acupuncture treatments on patients in addition to blood letting practices to induce healing.

Basic Principles

Traditional Chinese form of healing is deeply rooted in nature and man’s harmony with his surroundings. It is based on four basic beliefs.

  • Humans are closely linked to their environment and all factors such as the their location on earth, month of the year and time of the day all affect their bodies. Other factors also play an important part such as age, genetic background and body type.
  • The human body is a comprehensive structure that includes not just the body but also the mind, spirit, emotions and feelings that together make up a complete person. Each of these are driven by the life energy inside a person.
  • The human body has the innate ability to heal itself and sometimes just needs a little stimulation in the right way.
  • The human body is capable of giving the person signals about its condition and people should know how to recognize these signals and understand the signs so they can take action before they actually fall ill.

Life Energy

Ying_yang_signTraditional Chinese medicine is thus based on the credo that human health is dependent on the life force or energy also called “qi” or “chi” that circulates through 12 main meridians or channels in the body. Chinese healers believed that illnesses and injuries could cause disruptions or blockages in the free movement of energy within the body. And to restore this movement and balance in the body, the specific points on the patient’s body had to be stimulated.


The 12 meridians within the human body lie on either side and each of them corresponds to another on the opposite side. These meridians are linked to the different organs of the human body and also to each other to create a network. Thus you have the heart meridian, liver meridian, spleen meridian, lung meridian, kidney meridian and so on. Besides the life energy, there are also subtle messages passed along this network. This communication between the organs of the body contributes to good health. Any disruption in this energy or communication network causes ailments. More on Meridians

Five Element Theory

Interactions_of_Five_Chinese_ElementsChinese medicine also believes that the meridians are directly linked to the five elements in nature such as fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Further, each of these elements are in turn linked to the different directions such as east, west, north, south and center and are closely connected to the parts of the body and its various functions. Thus, by completely understanding how these elements work on the body, healers can treat not just the body but also the spirit, mind and emotions of the patient.

Basic Forms of Healing

Chinese healers use various forms of treatments to promote the free flow of energy within a patient’s body such as–

  • Anmo “tuina” also known as massage therapy
  • Chinese medicines created out of herbs
  • Acupuncture
  • Qigong or breathing therapy
  • Cupping therapy
  • Gua Sha scraping
  • Moxibustion
  • Exercise
  • Diet recommendations
  • Changes in lifestyle and habits

Anmo Tuina

Tuina is a form of massage therapy and the therapists uses their hands to understand the the imbalances of energy in the patient’s body. Thus they are able to redistribute the energy flows. This they can do by performing movements such as shaking, vibrating, rocking, rotating, tugging, causing friction, tapping, kneading and gliding. Each of these pressure treatments are performed on the particular points associated with the patient’s conditions. They are specially effective in eliminating many ailments such as back pain, headaches, insomnia, stress-related problems and many more. Similar to tuina massage is gua sha scraping, a type of massage used with a scraping tool (more relaxing than it sounds). Check out our overview of gua sha for more info.

Herbal Medicines

traditionnal_medecine_marketThe ancient Chinese healers used hundreds of medicinal plants and herbs that were known to possess healing properties. They created many medicines out of them often adding animal products and sometimes minerals to make them more effective. Various parts of the plants were used such as the roots, stems, seeds, leaves and flowers besides others. When consumed in conjunction with other forms of healing, they are known even today to have potent effects.


acupuncture_needlesAcupuncture to heal illnesses is used in many parts of the world today but has its origins in China. This form of therapy is also directed at the various points in the patient’s body that need stimulation. Fine needles are inserted into these points and are known to cause relief from pain and nausea, to name a scarce few conditions. Needles are also inserted to different depths depending on the ailment and its severity. When the needle reaches the optimum depth, the patient experiences a deep ache. There are 350 points in the body that can be targeted and in today’s times, needles are sterilized and perhaps heated before use for more effectiveness.


This form of therapy was first propagated by the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, and works on creating a balance between the body, spirit and mind of the patient. Using a series of breathing exercises, visual methods, gradual movements and unmoving postures, the therapy attempts to stimulate the body’s meridians and promote healing. It is known to induce the awakening of the body’s genetic mechanism so that it heals itself. Though, it is advisable to practice it under the direction of an expert therapist.

Cupping Therapy

street cuppingCupping is possibly one of the most ancient forms of Chinese healing and acts like the reverse of Tuina. It aims at exerting the opposite of pressure and can act up to four inches below the outer skin. Thus it is a form of deep tissue massage and involves the use of heat to cause suction within small cups. These cups are instantly inverted on specific points along the meridians on the person’s body and thus induce healing. The old healers used cups made of bamboo, animal bones and later porcelain. In addition to dry cupping, wet cupping is also a form of cupping therapy where tiny incisions are made on the skin alternated by cupping sessions. In this way, a small amount of toxic blood and fluids are drawn from the body. (More information on cupping therapy)

In addition to these forms of therapy, the healer might recommend exercising and the intake of healthy, nutritious and balanced meals to further promote healing in the patient’s body.

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