Traditional Chinese Medicine: What You Need to Know

lifestyle wellness Jun 20, 2023

As I’ve progressively become more interested in holistic wellness over the years, the practices common in the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine have continued to come up again and again. Though the principles of Eastern Medicine are theoretically at odds with the Westernized practices we’re all accustomed to, I find great value in opening our minds to the benefits of both ways of approaching health.

What is TCM?

Traditional Chinese Medicine, commonly referred to as TCM, is a healing method with its origins in ancient Taoist philosophy thought to have originated in China over 2,500 years ago. Practitioners utilize a variety of techniques including acupuncture, cupping, herbal remedies, diet, massage and exercises like ti chi in order to prevent or heal illness.

As a system, TCM is designed to stimulate the healing mechanisms of the body in order to improve both the physical and psychological states. “TCM practitioners look to treat the root cause of disease and take a holistic approach to helping people experience complete healing without the use of conventional drugs,” according to Dr. Josh Axe.

TCM practices are still utilized in many of China’s medical facilities alongside modern medicine, while in the United States this healing method is still largely considered a separate, alternative modality.

Beliefs of TCM

You’ve likely heard about the idea of yin and yang, which is a major tenet of the TCM belief system and true to its Taoist roots. Yin and Yang represent opposing but complementary energies that, when out of balance, negatively affect one’s health. A variety of symptoms arise when one of these energies is more dominant than the other, and thus TCM aims to restore balance.

Qi (pronounced “chee”), is another integral belief of TCM. Qi is thought to flow throughout the body along various meridians that are linked to different organ systems. Therefore, isolating specific meridians helps mediate symptoms and restore overall equilibrium.

Health Benefits of TCM

Though Western science has not extensively studied TCM in the treatment of specific health conditions, it is commonly used throughout the world for ailments such as:

  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Cancer recovery or chemotherapy
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Fertility
  • High blood pressure
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Infertility
  • Insomnia
  • Obesity
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • PMS and menopause symptoms
  • Skin conditions including eczema, hives, acne, psoriasis

Overall, the various approaches used in TCM are seen to reduce inflammation, reduce chronic pain, balance hormones, improve liver health, protect cognitive function, lower the body’s stress response, improve muscle strength and flexibility, facilitate restful sleep and more.

Treatment Methods

As mentioned, TCM utilizes a variety of therapeutic techniques specific to each individual. The most common include:

Acupuncture – Inserting thin needles into points on the body taps into particular energy centers in order to bring the body and mind back into balance. Read my Introduction to Acupuncture post for everything you need to know!

Herbal Medicine – Utilizing a variety of natural, plant-based remedies is essential to TCM. These can be taken in the form of capsules, teas, powders or tinctures.

Cupping Therapy – Glass or silicon cups are placed on the skin’s surface, and suction is applied to pull blood into the skin tissue. I break down this method completely in What You Need to Know About Cupping Therapy.

Diet/Nutrition – TCM practitioners analyze patients’ needs and work to combat deficiencies and prescribe foods with specific healing properties.

Massage – This is perhaps one of the most well known (and loved!) methods. Not only does it relax the nervous system, but it also manipulates the soft tissue to improve blood flow.

Exercise – Traditional forms of movement like tai chi include calming postures, gentle movements, mental focus, breathing and relaxation.

Healing Herbs Used in TCM

The use of healing herbs in TCM has its roots in a traditional text called “Materia Medica” that includes thousands of different herbs, minerals, teas, tinctures and other extracts. A wide variety of herbs are typically utilized in combination with one another to adhere to patients’ specific symptoms and needs.

According to Dr. Axe, patients might make good candidates for herbal therapies if they have more than one unexplained symptom, feel fatigued on top of having other symptoms, aren’t responding well to medications or feel anxious or depressed, in addition to having other symptoms.

Some of the most commonly used herbs in TCM include:

My TCM Journey & How to Embrace It Yourself

I personally began embracing more Eastern medicinal practices in college by adding healing, adaptogenic herbs into my morning coffee (Sun Potion has an incredible variety). I’d seen various health bloggers recommend these daily additions for stress relief, immunity, digestion, etc., so I began researching on my own. Little did I know back then that I was already dabbling in TCM!

Likewise, I’ve adopted regular acupuncture into my wellness routine over the years to help ease anxiety, combat sleep issues, balance hormones, and promote overall balance.

TCM as a healing system emphasizes the unique needs of each individual’s body, mind and situation, and thus, I believe it’s important to seek out the guidance of a certified TCM practitioner or acupuncturist to get started yourself.

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has a directory of all acupuncturists and TCM practitioners that hold NCCAOM certification. Be sure to use this resource to find reliable practitioners that have met established standards of competency.

From there, you’ll be able to discuss the best methods for embracing TCM in your own life! And yes, these traditional Eastern customs can easily and safely be utilized alongside the Western medicine practices we all know.

It’s all about finding a balance that works for you and remaining open minded to all healing methods, particularly those intended to help us become more aligned versions of ourselves .

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