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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a medical system designed over 3,000 years ago. Ancient Chinese practitioners used this scientific method based on observations to theorize how qi, life's energetic flow, works. They were acutely aware of nature and its effects on the body. TCM practitioners observed in addition to the internal factors affecting health, seasonal shifts had a direct impact on the body. Nutritional and seasonal lifestyle suggestions are core parts of TCM to support your health vitality.
Without conducting autopsies, these ancient Chinese practitioners figured out how the internal organs interacted. Although our understanding of the internal organ systems has improved over the years as science has advanced, these initial understandings were surprisingly close to accurate. Over time, they discovered interesting associations throughout the body, leading them to theorize about connective channels. They noticed correlations between body areas, including internal organ systems and external points on limbs. They determined that the energetic nature of the body has a flow, and that everything is connected. In addition to the physical structures we see and feel, there is an energy that works like a hologram in the body. Because of this property of qi flow, the acupuncture channels work together in a circuit and we can affect area of the body at different points along the circuit.
In Chinese medicine, there are many microsystems in the body that represent and affect the whole. For example, some systems of acupuncture use only the ear to treat the whole body. Each area of the ear maps to an anatomical region in the body—the whole body is present in the ear. There's a similar Korean hand technique and many traditions of mapping of the body on the feet, such as reflexology. An esteemed teacher of ours, Dr. Richard Tan, has shown us how to use the channels on the limbs to address any part of the body. In fact, each bone on a person's arm matches anatomically to their leg, torso, head, back, and so on. The correlations are endless and fascinating. When someone has pain in their neck, we find the tender spots on the corresponding channels at the ankle, insert the necessary needles and the pain instantly decreases. Over time, the pain should completely go away. Similarly, to treat the face we use this mapping system.
As explained above, it's common in acupuncture to treat the opposite end of the channel to support health. In this way, we create balance. One of the tenants of TCM is "where there is stagnation, there is pain." The primary function of acupuncture treatments is to improve the flow of qi in the body so it works more efficiently, free of stagnation.
Observation of the tongue is very useful in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Your tongue is another microsystem that represents the state of your whole body, so we look at the size, shape, color and coating to diagnose possible imbalances throughout your body.
The state of your tongue can change frequently. When you get a cold, the coating on your tongue may thicken. Eating a large, rich meal with several glasses of alcohol may also contribute to an increased coating on your tongue or even change the color. Menopausal women experiencing night sweats and hot flashes may display tongues that are dark red with a dry coating or cracks in the surface, whereas during their menstruating life, their tongue may have been pale colored. Observing these differences is vital to your overall diagnosis.
The first step in acupuncture treatment is to diagnose any possible imbalances. This is the best way to assess your state of health, as well as to stay on course with a plan to maximize a healthy outcome. In addition to identifying signs and symptoms, Chinese medicine has a long history of using various forms of palpation and observational diagnosis techniques, including pulse taking, tongue diagnosis and face reading. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners understand that the internal functioning of the body will appear externally, so we use the information gleamed from these techniques to underscore our diagnoses for meaningful improvements in your health.
The qi flow throughout the body is connected. One way to assess the strength or vitality of each qi channel and its corresponding organ system is pulse palpation. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are 12 different pulse positions on the ulnar side of the wrists. Six of the channels can be assessed on the right hand, while the other six reside on the left. On each side, there are three positions and at least two depths. This is a prime example of how we use the holographic nature of the qi flow to understand the body.
By placing three fingers along the ulnar edge of your wrist and feeling the movement of the pulse at different depths, we can assess various health qualities. Acupuncturists will feel for relative speed, depth, strength and texture qualities that contribute to the diagnosis of your overall state of health. This information is incorporated into the TCM diagnosis and used to assess improvement with treatment.