The Harmony In Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine has a long history and over a few thousand years of evolution has become a very rich and sophisticated system of medicine with multiple series and applications. It seeks to understand and facilitate harmony not only in human life but in the human body as well. However, it is often met with controversy and criticism due to the fact that a large amount of it is based on the theory of energy 气 and the five elements 五行. Many people claim that there is no scientific research behind it and question whether or not it is even safe, to begin with. Although there are many skeptics, it is effective in its own way and that after learning more about how it works it will help you to better appreciate China’s medicinal culture and understand your own body better.
The two main concepts that come into play when discussing Chinese medicine is the theory of energy and of the five elements theory. The theory of energy is the idea of Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are all about harmony, just like the human body, everything is interconnected and interdependent if one thing is disturbed it is like a ripple, and there will be disturbance created throughout the entire body. Yin and Yang are constantly changing, everything that is Yin contains some elements of Yang and everything that Yang getting contains some elements of Yin. When all of the Yin and Yang aspects of Qi are in harmony with one another there will be good health and well-being, however, if there is disharmony where there is too little or too much of either one there will be illness, pain, and suffering. The two reasons as to why disharmony occurs it is either due to access or a deficiency of something in the body.
The other theory that can be applied here is the theory of the five elements. The idea of this is also similar to the concept of the Yin and the Yang because it shows that everything is connected. The five elements in Chinese medicine are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. We have all five of these elements within us and each element represents a different part of the human body. The five elements are all in a circle and each element has a Yin and Yang organ that it is associated with. For example, the wood Yin is the liver while the wood Yang is the gallbladder. The fire Yin is the heart and the fire Yang is the small intestine, the earth Yin is the spleen, earth Yang is the stomach, metal Yin is the lung, metal Yang is the large intestine, and lastly, water Yin is the kidney, water Yang is the bladder. This is only a brief list of the organs that they represent, however, they also have their own characteristics, emotions, colors and season behind them. The interesting thing about this cycle is that they have the power to make each other stronger but they also have the power to destroy one another, just like our bodies. The order of the cycle is that they are all in a circle that forms a pentagon shape, starting with wood on the left-hand side to fire at the top, down to the right-hand side is earth then down to the right leg of the Pentagon is metal and lastly the left leg is water. For the creating cycle, the order goes as follows: wood feeds fire, fire creates earth, earth bears metal, metal carries water and water nurses wood. The destructive cycle goes as follows: wood parts earth, earth absorbs water, water quenches fire, fire melts metal and metal chops wood.
With that in mind, I do believe that understanding these basic theories can help you better appreciate the maintenance of our own health. Personally speaking, the concept of Qi makes a lot of sense, I do believe that there is a balance in the human body and there is harmony when you are healthy. Yin and Yang are constantly changing, however, when it changes too fast and the body is unable to adapt to the change we get sick, similar to when it is chilly outside and we are quickly warmed up, the difference in temperature causes us to catch a cold or a fever. This is like Yin and Yang, our bodies were not able to adapt to the change that quickly causing disharmony. The five elements are a little bit more complicated, however, I feel that it is a more complex union. Similar to Yin and Yang it is about harmony in the human body and when one of the elements is weak or the others become stronger, the body falls into disharmony and the organs associated with that element that has fallen weak are the part of the body that become ill.
Personally speaking, I believe that we do not need to fully understand how the body works in terms of energy flow only the basic idea. We now have effective methods of treatment that are gaining more recognition such as acupuncture, gua sha 刮痧, and cupping that help us to balance our inner energy flow. The human body is separated into physical and mental, therefore there are two Yin and Yang and two sets of elements. In order to fully function, they must both be in harmony. If a person has a healthy physical body but their mind is in disharmony, they will suffer from mental illnesses. If the individual has a healthy mind but a weak physical body, the two Yin and Yang and the five elements of the mind and body are not in harmony. A specific example would be that I had just finished reading a biography of Ernest Hemingway, and his father, Hemingway himself, his brother and his sister had all committed suicide. That is not only tragic but it shows that their Qi was off, they did not have harmony between their mind and body. It struck me because it reminded me how big of a problem mental illness is especially in China. Traditional Chinese medicine talks about how you want a harmonious energy flow whether it is through Qi or the five elements, however, they disregard the harmony of the human mind.