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This ancient system of healing views symptoms as signs of ‘disharmony’ ( rather than a named disease) and attributes illness to a disruption in the flow of qi, or ‘life energy’. Acupressure, acupuncture, herbalism, diet, qigong, tai chi, tuina and shiatsu are different aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), whose aim is to harmonize the flow of qi. Although Western Doctors are sceptical about the concept of qi, the proven effectivenss of acupuncture in treating some conditions makes it one of the most widely accepted complementary therapies.
History of TCM
There is evidence that Acupuncture was practiced in China some 3,500 years ago. The Nei Jing ( The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Of Internal Medicine, ) which dates from between 200bc and AD100, is one of the earliest documents to explain the principles of balance, harmony and moderation underpinning TCM.
After its introduction in China in the 16th Century, Western Medicine threatened to supersede TCM. However, the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949 led to a revival of the ancient medicine. In China, TCM is now taught at Universities and practised in hospitals alongside Western Medicine.
New York times journalist James Reston had an emergency appendectomy while visiting China in 1972. His account of how acupuncture relieved his post-operative pain re-awakened Western medical interest. Since then, acupuncture has been widely studied, and ‘acupuncture’ is now often used to help relieve pain and nausea in hospitals and pain clinics.
TCM is about the body’s processes rather than its physical anatomy. Practitioners view the body as an integrated whole, linked by energy and information transfer known as the flow of qi. According to TCM, qi moves along a network of channels, called meridians, that run through the body. Twelve meridians are named after the main internal organs through which they pass. Two further meridians, the conception and governing channels, control the 12.
Disruption of qi on a meridian can cause a problem at any point along it, thus a disorder in the stomach meridian, which passes theough the upper gums, could cause tootheache. Qi moves between yin and yang – opposite but complementary tendencies in the body – either to the centre (yin) or outwards to the surface (yang). Carious factors including diet, the strengthe of the organs, environment, temperament and stress levels, will determine the balance between yin and yang. If the balance is distrurbed, yin conditions) or yang conditions ( such as inflammations) will ensue.
A TCM practitioner uses four methods of diagnosis to assess a patient’s condition: asking, observing (this involves looking at the tongue, noting the tone of the skin and the way a patient moves), listening and smelling, and touching. The latter includes pulse taking; checking the rhythm and strength of al 12 meridian pulses (six on each wrist). The practitioner looks for ‘patterns of disharmony’, for example, yin or yang excess or deficiency in particular organs, and will then suggest a programme of herbal remedies, acupuncture and other treatments.
Treatment – there are about 365 acupoints along the meridians at which qi is concentrated and enters and leaves the body. The acupuncturist inserts fine stainless steel needles to a depth of about 4-25mm at these sites to stimulate or suppress the flow of qi. Needles may be left in place for a few minutes or as long as an hour. Sometimes a practitioner will burn moxa, a herb, over the acupoint to create a stimulating heat.
Acupressure and Tuina
Acupressure is acupuncture without needles. It is much less effective. It involves the use of a thumb pressure to stimulate acupoints. Tuina, a vigorous form of body massage, is popular in China. Both Acupressure and Tuina provide useful self-help techniques for many common ailments.
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