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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Medicine from Metaphor
Traditional Chinese medicine grounds its philosophy in the parallels between the human body and the natural world. Explore its basic elements with Groupon’s guide.
When practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine look at a patient, they see the world. The four seasons, the eight basic principles of nature (cold and hot, interior and exterior, empty and full, and yin and yang), the five elements (earth, fire, water, wood, and metal)—all are reflected in the body. In this almost poetic system of mapping, the heart, spleen, lung, liver, and kidneys represent the five elements, and just as an imbalance of fire or water can cause drought or flood on earth, so can energy imbalances among the five vital organs disrupt human health. In the traditional Chinese approach, a practitioner’s job is to identify which organ is causing imbalance and restore proper energy flow, or chi.
But first, there’s investigation. The healer listens, smells, takes a pulse, and asks questions. He or she often observes the tongue, since it can reveal the body’s internal rumblings through its color and thickness. Depending on the exam’s results, the prescription may be acupuncture, herbal medicine, or a combination of the two. A course of treatment may also involve a mind-body practice such as tai chi, dietary therapy, the use of heated suction cups to remove tension, or moxibustion—burning a cone of mugwort or other dried herbs on or near the skin.
If a paste, powder, or pill is called for, they may grind plants, minerals, or animal byproducts into a recipe from the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, a medical guide dating back roughly 2,200 years. Another foundational text is the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, or Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, written between 400 and 200 BCE. Among its many bold assertions is the idea that, instead of demons, it may be emotions, lifestyle, environment, and age that cause disease.