An important idea in Chinese Medicine and philosophy is that there are three primary relationships for human beings. Our relationship with and within our self, our internal relationship. Our relationship with others, our social relationship. And our relationship with the environment and universe. These can overlap and effect each other. Each of these relationships has within it various factors and interrelationships as well.
Our internal relationship has to do with our internal milieu, the myriad cellular interactions, ebbs and flow of hormones and interactions between the organs. In addition, the interaction of psyche and soma, how this affects such things as heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, the balance or imbalance of the nervous system. And what occurs within our minds, thoughts and emotions, whether calm or on a spinning wheel of worry. Chinese Medicine has always recognized and dealt with the mind/body connection.
Our relationship with others, our social milieu, has a lot to do with stresses that affect us, from interpersonal to work issues. This also relates to joys and traumas from childhood on through life. All of these social relationships also relate to one's self esteem and feeling of place socially.
As Hans Seyle, a pioneering researcher born in Austria who worked later in Canada in the 1950's and who made many discoveries about the mechanisms and effects of stress said: it is not stress that harms us, but how we react to it. This is the overlap of the internal and social relationship circles.
Our relationship with the environment has to do with such things as climate, weather, and diseases caused by organisms around us. Chinese Medicine speaks of the Six External Evils: Wind, Heat, Cold, Damp, Fire and Dryness. Think of the northern Sacramento valley in the summer and how the dryness affects one's skin and mucous membranes. The allergies and other illnesses of someone here will manifest differently from those of someone in the San Francisco Bay Area or another wet, foggy place, where the climate is more humid and the weather less hot and dry. From sunspots to the magnetic pull of the moon, we are affected by the universe we live in.
In addition to the Six Evils as causes of disease, in Chinese Medicine we examine the state of the internal organs, the qi and blood to ascertain a person's state of health or imbalance leading to illness or discomfort. This may be done through questioning, palpating areas of the body, taking the pulse and observing the complexion and the tongue.
The goal of treatment, whether through acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary therapy or exercises such as qi gong or tai ji quan, is to restore balance and health in the body/mind. For Chinese Medicine thousands of years ago realized the inseparability of mind and body.
The oldest known writings on Chinese Herbal Medicine were unearthed from the Ma Wang Dui Tombs in Hunan Province, China, in 1973. Written on silk fabric and thought to date from the third century BC, these writings included 280 herbal prescriptions for the treatment of 52 kinds of disease. The extent of these ancient writings is evidence of the long prior usage of herbs in the treatment of disease. Over the years since, many classic books have documented the growing knowledge in China regarding the use of herbs and treatment of disease. At this point we have thousands of herbal formulas to draw from.
I believe Chinese Herbal Medicine to be the most sophisticated system of herbal medicine in the world because it is grounded in the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and at the same time based on thousands of years of empirical experience. The prescription of herbs depends on the diagnosis of the patient and the condition. That is, the patient and his/her underlying constitution, as well as the particular aspects of the disease are all taken into account. This is the opposite of a 'one size fits all' approach, aiming instead for an individualized treatment.
In the past sixty years much research has been done on Chinese herbs and herbal formulas. At this point we can also choose herbs and formulas based on research into such things as their anti-inflammatory properties, or their ability to affect hormonal levels. Yet it is a mistake to take such information out of the context of the theories and diagnostic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I find that the information from modern research can be integrated into the traditional framework for the best results.
Many conditions and complaints can be treated by Chinese Herbal Medicine. Often the addition of acupuncture treatment speeds the healing process. Sometimes the combination of herbal medicine and modern Western medicine, including pharmaceutical treatment, is appropriate. This is true Integrative Medicine, the best of both systems combined to achieve the best outcomes for each person.
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