The Secrets of Traditional Chinese Medicine

“A single untried popular remedy often throws the scientific doctor into hysterics.” -Chinese proverb

With modern medicine to take care of every scrape and pain, we may find ourselves reaching for the Tylenol bottle and band-aids much too quickly. Popping pills has almost become routine and you can take them for anything that ails you. However, we don’t have to be chained to modern medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for thousands of years keeping people healthy and happy and continues to do so to this day.

As we begin our study of traditional Chinese medicine, we must keep in mind that for those that practice traditional Chinese medicine, this is a way of life. It is not like the modern medicine we experience in the United States, in fact, it is quite different. This traditional form of medicine treats more than just the illness. You would not pop a pill every time you got a headache. You may consider other treatments such as massage or acupuncture to cure your headaches, especially if it is a chronic condition. There are three major branches of traditional Chinese medicine include only herbal, massage and acupuncture.

Today in China, traditional Chinese medicine is a distinct branch of medicine that is practiced in conjunction with modern western medicine. It is important to note that western medicine is far superior in treating trauma cases while traditional Chinese medicine excels in treating things such as: infections, chronic conditions and the side effects of chemotherapy and drug addiction withdrawals. This in no way is meant to infer that traditional Chinese medicine is inferior to its western counterpart. It is simply good to remember Chinese and western medicines are two distinct ways of treating illnesses. Traditional Chinese medicine offers a more comprehensive look at your overall health and will help maintain a better overall well-being while western medicine is more focused on treating the illness at hand.

Controlling your Chi

Much of the basis for traditional Chinese medicine lies in the concept of Chi. (This word is also commonly spelled “Qi” or “ki” –there is no “correct” way since it is just the sounds of the words being transcribed into roman letters). Chi is the energy of life that we all possess and control. Literally, the word translates as “breath” or “energy flow.” Similarly, the Chinese symbol used for the word Chi is symbolic of steam rising off of rice while cooking.

Since Chi is the flow of energy throughout your body, illness is thought to occur when this energy cannot flow properly, it’s path becomes too narrow or is blocked from flowing all together. Although some may claim to control Chi with their mind, this is not the mainstream idea behind controlling your Chi. Typically, a Chinese healer will use massage, diet, herbs and possibly exercise to help increase the flow of Chi.

As a westerner, we can still control our Chi through similar practices as the Chinese. To begin to understand how to feel your Chi, you can rapidly rub your hands together until they start to become warm. Then slowly separate them until they are about one inch apart. Between your hands you will feel your Chi flowing from hand to hand. Although this little exercise will be fun to show your friends, a much more serious way to begin to actually control your Chi is through meditation. Find a quiet corner where you can begin to focus your mind on your Chi. You must remain calm and concentrate intently on finding the force of life as it flows throughout your body. You may be able to focus in on the energy itself, however, many people are also successful at visualizing it as it travels through the body. As you experiment, you will gain more control over your Chi and be able to direct it throughout your body to help relax and heal you.

Yin and Yang

Yin and yang is a traditional Chinese concept of philosophy that explains the difference between dark and light. Yin and yang is a metaphor for all opposites and tradition holds that although forces may be opposite, they are also complimentary. Yin is thought to be the dark force, representing dark or night and all things passive. Yin does not represent evil, as is a common misconception among westerners. Since yin and yang are complimentary, neither one can possibly a representation of good or evil. They are simply different. Yang, being the opposite of yin, is viewed as things that are bright and sunny and is often symbolized with fire. Yang is a force with active qualities.

The concept of yin and yang is also unique in that it is not an absolute theory. No one thing is purely yin or yang. Everything is constantly changing and so is the balance of yin and yang. You can also not have one without the other. They are interdependent entities that need each other to survive.

The concept of yin and yang is directly applicable to your health. In traditional Chinese medicine, if the two are consistently unbalanced and one dominates over the other, then the result will be sickness and disease. Chi, yin and yang are all common threads that tie the branches of traditional Chinese medicine together.

Acupuncture as a healing aid

Acupuncture, meaning, “needle prick,” is a form of treatment that involves sticking needles into various points, known as “acupuncture points.” These points are specific to what ails you and acupuncture has been proven effective in treating pain, headaches, nausea and other various ailments. However, in traditional Chinese medicine, the purpose is more than merely curing what ails you, the purpose is to put your Chi and body in harmony and to ensure that each part of your body had adequate yin and yang.

The acupuncturist will typically use solid, thin stainless steel needles (But copper or silver needles work well too) at each acupuncture point you need treated. Most points are not tied directly to any one specific part of your body, such as the liver or lungs, but rather, each point represents an area or function of the body.

To diagnose a patient, an acupuncturist will often take many signs from the face area to determine the correct course of treatment. After a quick study of the tongue and mouth, the acupuncturist will often inquire about your recent well-being. Then, before the actual treatment, the acupuncturist may try to locate “ashi” points on your body, or soft spots, to help determine the proper course of treatment. There is then a complex array of points, channels and systems for determining the acupuncture points, of which there is not enough room to discuss for the purposes of this article. The important thing to know is that each acupuncture point is a way to redirect your Chi to improve the function of your various body parts.

It is still a secret how acupuncture works to relieve pain and there are many theories surrounding it. One of the leading theories is that the needles used release hormones or other chemicals that interact with pain in a positive way. Others believe that it has a good effect on blood pressure to improve circulation and target pain at its source.

Herbal Medicine

Traditional Chinese herbology is just about as complex as modern medicine itself. A traditional Chinese herbologist would not simply prescribe an herb for whatever condition it is you have. Instead, the herbologist would choose one or two main ingredients to target your illness and then augment the concoction with other herbs to put the rest of your body back into harmony. Equally important, a Chinese herb doctor will include certain herbs to act as a catalyst to the main ingredients and others to nullify the toxic effects that some other herbs may have. Traditional Chinese herbology holds that no single herb is the key to health or treating pain. Each patient actually needs an herbal remedy tailor fitted to them.

The herbs themselves are not long held Chinese secret, but the manner in which they are combined and used is. Common herbs and their corresponding remedies include: tangerine peel to help regulate your Chi, Hawthorn fruit for improving gastrointestinal function, pumpkin seed to kill parasites, red sage root to invigorate your blood and aster berry to help eliminate phlegm. There are literally hundreds of herbs and combinations of herbs that can be used for various aches, pains and diseases.

Today, off the shelf varieties of traditional herbal remedies can be bought over the counter in China. Two major brands of Chinese herbal remedies are exported to the United States: Plum Flower and Mín Shān. It is important to use one of these two mainstream Chinese brands or buy something made in the United States because off brands may contain higher than recommended quantities of undesirable substances such as mercury or lead. Although manufactured pills lack the individual quality found in true traditional Chinese medicine cocktails prepared by herb doctors, the various groupings of herbs are still very effective in treating minor things. For more severe cases of pain, it becomes more important to go the more traditional route of having a true herb doctor find the right balance of herbs for you.


Chinese massage is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine, and rightly so. Chinese varieties of massage focus on the principles of chi or acupuncture, depending on the style of massage being practiced.

Zhi Ya is a form of Chinese massage that focuses on the acupuncture points. Pinching or pressing each particular acupuncture point helps to stimulate these points and achieve increased flow of chi. Tui Na is a form of Chinese massage that focuses less on the acupuncture points and focuses more on relaxing the muscles themselves by kneading and stretching them. Although these are both bona fide methods of Chinese massage, perhaps the most traditional method is Tai Ji massage, a method that focuses on cleansing the body through massage to create balance between your yin and yang.

Does it really work?

Just like modern medicine, what works for some, may not work for others. Some may find peace with traditional Chinese medicine and find that they are healthier and happier for practicing it. Although there is evidence that many of these traditional practices have been successful, it is not a branch of medicine based in scientific fact. However, when you take a look at the individual components of traditional Chinese medicine you can see that they are all factors in creating harmony in your life and keeping you in a position less prone to sickness.

Through controlling your Chi, you will find yourself more in tune with your body, more willing to cut out stress from your life. You will probably also find yourself eating healthier, participating in healthy exercises as well as other health promoting things. Massage and acupuncture will work with your body in much the same way, you will become more in tune with your body and able to diagnose sicknesses and realize the times your body needs rest, relaxation or even increased activity. Chinese medicine may be successful due to the increased awareness of your body and self. If you know that your Chi is blocked, you know you need to so something about it.

The results of traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine will undoubtedly help to create a better, more well-rounded you. By concentrating on your Chi and balance of yin and yang, you are guaranteed to live a more serene life. If you haven’t guessed it by now, the true secret to traditional Chinese medicine is that you will stop focusing only on sickness but include your wellness as a health aspect. When you become stressed out from work or family affairs, you will be able to recognize that and find ways to better balance your yin and yang and work through the stress. You won’t keep bad things from happening to you, but with traditional Chinese medicine, you will be able to better deal with any challenge that you face.