Rooted in Chinese culture and tradition for thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the most popular alternative health therapies, and is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world. But it's not just herbs and acupuncture. From massage (tui na) and exercise (qigong) to tai chi and dietary recommendations, there's a lot to understand about the ancient medical methodology. To help us, Doris Rathgeber, TCM doctor and founder of Body & Soul Medical Clinics gives us the facts.
SF: What is the premise of TCM?
DR: The goal of TCM is to reestablish the flow of Qi, the vital energy or life force of a person, to keep the life energy active and flowing, and maintain balance in the body. Every organ has its own Qi that fulfills certain tasks in the body and flows in a certain direction. If the Qi is stagnant, it can lead to a variety of different physical and mental ailments, which can range from migraines and insomnia to muscle stiffness and indigestion. A person’s Qi can be affected by both external and internal factors, such as weather and the environment, and even intense emotions and stress.
SF: What’s the difference between Western medicine and TCM?
DR: In Western medicine, it’s believed that the human body is nourished by only one vital energy: blood. In Chinese medicine, there are believed to be two vital energies: blood and Qi – the blood is the passive Yin substance and the Qi is the active Yang substance. A deficiency of Qi leads to a deficiency of blood, and with this comes fatigue, dizziness, lethargy, loss of appetite and even digestive problems.
SF: What are the 12 meridians?
DR: The meridians are the most important highways of Qi; there are 12 major meridians that run on each side of the body that mirror one another (liver, gall bladder, heart, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, lungs, kidney, bladder, pericardium, triple burner and sleep meridians). It connects the organs with the tissues and guarantees that there is a continual supply of Qi wherever the body needs energy. People normally feel pain or pressure when there is a clog or blockage in a meridian, which can be caused by excessive stress or lack of sleep. If the Qi flows freely through the meridians and all the organs work in harmony, the body will be healthy.
SF: How can TCM help us in our daily lives?
DR: In ancient times, the goal of TCM was to prevent the body from disease. Daily exercise, the right diet according to the Five Element Theory (wu xing) and getting enough sleep was recommended. But today, the goal of TCM is also to keep the body strong. Exercises like tai chi and qi gong are soft but effective movements that strengthen muscles, help control the body and keep the Qi flowing.
SF: What are some of the main TCM procedures and what are their benefits?
DR: The best known is certainly acupuncture (针灸 zhēnjiū), which involves applying the acupuncture needles to certain pressure points to release tension and pain. There is also tuina deep tissue massage (推拿按摩 tuīná ànmó), cupping (拔火罐 bá hu guàn) and moxibustion (艾灸 ài jiū), all of which help release the stagnation of Qi by pressing on certain acupressure points in the body’s meridian system to stimulate the body’s own healing process, and restore flow and balance to the body.
SF: According to TCM, are there foods that can help counteract the negative effects of hazardous elements?
DR: TCM actually helps detox the body via sweating, urinating and promoting regular bowel movements. The opposing forces of yin and yang are extensively used in TCM, with different foods influencing the natural balance of these forces through their cooling (yin) and warming (yang) properties. For example, hot food items like ginger and chili cause the body to sweat. Foods like pears and almonds help clear the lungs. Rhubarb can help the body remove built-up heat through bowel movements, and cucumbers and watermelon can also help remove heat while simultaneously replenishing the body with liquid.
SF: What are some common misconceptions about TCM?
1. TCM is faith-based healing. In some ways this is true, but not entirely. In ancient Chinese philosophy, it was believed that an invisible element called Qi maintained harmony and balance in the body. This Qi included all non-material elements, things we cannot grab. So the genesis of the problem lies in the fact that Qi, as it cannot be seen, found and studied, can’t be proven scientifically. That is why people say it is not scientific and in order for it to work, you have to believe in it.
2. TCM is not scientific enough. TCM is drawn from experience, spanning thousands of years. Whereas Western medicine only goes as far back as a couple hundred years. Even though Western medicine is based on statistics and science, no one can definitively say one is more or less scientific than the other.
3. TCM can only treat pain. TCM can help treat and cure pain, whether it’s acute or chronic, but it also can be used as a preventative medicine to prevent the onset of pain and injury.
4. TCM can only treat older people. TCM is great for everyone, from babies to older people. For instance, if a child had a fever, diarrhea or the flu, they can be treated with a tuina massage that will help the problem go away after a couple sessions.
5. TCM is only good for treating headaches. TCM is also a good healing method for infections, inflammations and even gynecological treatments without using hormones. It can also treat psychological issues like light depression, anxiety and sadness, and help with sleeping disorders, gastrointestinal issues, digestion problems and even dermatological problems.
Acupuncture (针灸 zhēnjiŭ) Hair-thin needles are inserted into the skin at certain acupressure points. Affects physical and energetic circulation, physiological function and mood. Used to treat or prevent a host of diseases.
Acupressure (指压 zhiyā) Physical stimulation of acupressure points by hand or using a massage device, such as a probe. Used for pain relief.
Scraping (刮痧 guāshā) A friction massage (scraping treatment) that stimulates acupuncture meridians, relieving tendinomuscular strain, improving circulation and clearing internal heat. Used to treat fever, sunstroke, and release toxins by bruising the back with a coin or spoon.
Cupping (拔罐儿 báguànr) Heated bamboo, glass or plastic cups are placed on the skin to create a tight suction. Cups leave temporary circular marks for a few days. Treats coughs, colds, arthritis or muscle pain.
Manipulative Massage (推拿 tuīná) A mixture of physical manipulation and massage to affect the alignment of the bones and muscles, improve Qi flow along acupuncture meridians and reduce musculo-skeletal strain.
Moxibustion (艾灸 àijiŭ) The herb mugwort (moxa) is placed on, or held over, the skin and lit, emitting heat and smoke, which warms the area and improves circulation. Minimizes symptoms of the common cold, such as stiff joints, cold hands and feet, or slow digestion.
Herbal Therapies (草药疗法 caoyào liáofa) Blends of herbs are made into pills, extracts, teas or skin patches. Used to treat respiratory, urinary or reproductive problems. May interfere with prescription medications. Use with extreme caution and only from reputable sources.
Body & Soul Medical Clinics: Locations in Huangpu, Century Park, Minhang and Jing'An. www.tcm-shanghai.com
Global HealthCare: Locations in Puxi and Pudong. www.ghcchina.com
Parkway Health: Locations in Jing'An, Xintiandi, Hongqiao, Jinqiao and Lujiazui. www.parkwayhealth.cn
Rainbow Children’s Clinic (RCC): Located in Kerry Parkside Pudong. www.rainbowhealth.cn
Shanghai DeltaWest Clinic: Located in Changning District (near Shuicheng Nan Lu). www.deltahealth.com.cn
Shanghai East International: Located in Pudong. www.seimc.com.cn
Shanghai Renai Hospital: Locations in Xuhui District and near Shanghai Indoor Stadium. www.en.renai.cn
Shanghai SKY Clinic: Located in Changning District. www.shanghaiskyclinic.com
Shanghai United Family Hospital: Located in Changning District (near Linquan Lu). shanghai.ufh.com.cn
Shanghai University of TCM: Locations in Pudong New Area (near Jinke Lu) and Xuhui. iec.shutcm.edu.cn
Shuguang Hospital: Locations in Pudong (near Keyuan Lu) and Puxi (near Dacang Lu). www.sgyy.cn
SinoUnited Health: Locations in Jing'An, Jinqiao, Gubei and Fudan. www.sinounitedhealth.com.cn
St. Michael Hospital: Located in Changning District. www.stmichael-hospital.com
Sunray Clinic: Locations in Pudong, Minhang and Xuhui Districts. www.sunray-clinic.com
The Mahota Health Management Center: Located in Changning District (near Hongqiao Lu). www.themahota.com
Towako Clinic: Located in Xuhui District (Huashan Lu). www.towako.net
Yiyuanzhen TCM, Shanghui Health: Located in Changning District. www.shanghuihealth.com
WorldPath Clinic International: Located in Pudong New District. www.worldpathclinic.com