The Eight Branches of Chinese Medicine

The Eight Branches of Chinese Medicine

Meditation: As long ago as the fifth century B.C.E., Taoists practiced meditation as a tool for cultivating inner peace. There is always an aspect of the mind that is quiet, calm, and present; however, it can be masked by thoughts, stories, and emotions that pull us out of the present moment. The mind can be like a toddler, running around from place to place, with an attention span of about one minute. It can easily switch from one emotion to the next. Meditation is not simply the practice of stopping all this chaos and quieting the mind; rather, it is the building of awareness about the mind’s habitual nature and the reduction of its distractions.

Exercise: Moving our bodies daily is vital to our overall well-being. Physical activity also moves our blood and cleanses our organs. Tai chi and qigong are both ancient forms of exercise used in Chinese medicine for the cultivation of energy. When visiting east Asian countries, you will see groups of people coming together to practice these movements every day. Even if you don’t know these two ancient practices, walking, running, swimming, dancing, hiking, playing sports, and even stretching are all wonderful forms of exercise.

Nutrition: Food is like medicine. It can nourish us to our very bones, bring us back from illness, and give us a tremendous amount of energy for living.  Many of us are getting sick. Returning to natural, unprocessed, whole foods that match your constitution, align with the season, and support you through any imbalances you may be experiencing is the most direct way to find balance. Through this lens, each meal provides an opportunity to heal from the inside out and to prevent illness rather than be vulnerable to it.

Cosmology: Cosmology refers to the foundation of any spiritual tradition that reveals the core beliefs of how we human beings came to exist and what helps us to thrive. In Taoist cosmology, human beings are not seen as separate from the natural world but rather as a manifestation and integral part of it. Therefore, to cultivate a state of balance, we must look to the natural world around us and mimic the rhythms and cycles we see.

Fang Shui: Just as we can benefit from finding balance inside ourselves by meditating, exercising, and eating a diet that is aligned with nature, we can benefit from creating a similar balance outside ourselves. This is called feng shui, and it encompasses the practice of enhancing health through the environmental balancing of the home, office, garden, and other sacred spaces.

Bodywork: Touch is vital to our overall health. The physical practice of being touched in a therapeutic way allows us to relax deeply and experience the release of tension on all levels. Bodywork gifts us with a number of amazing endorphins (feel-good hormones) most especially, oxytocin.

Herbal Medicine: Chinese herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years as a vital tool for maintaining health throughout the life cycles and seasons. Eating medicinal plants from the earth allows us to be in direct relationship with the earth. In addition to a diet that is in sync with our nature, herbal medicine can target specific health imbalances and enhance the healing benefits of meals.

Acupuncture: The final branch of Chinese medicine is also the newest of the eight (though still more than two thousand years old)—the practice of acupuncture. Acupuncture is the art of inserting very fine, sterile needles just under the skin in strategic places to nourish, calm, or otherwise direct the movement of energy. This ancient art form has been found not only to reduce pain but to influence myriad systems in the body, mind, and spirit. From anxiety to leaky gut syndrome to depression to inflammation, acupuncture treats us on many levels. While this practice can certainly address everyday imbalances, I have found it to be most beneficial when used as a tool for prevention.

Source: Everyday Chinese Medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is thousands of years old and has changed little over the centuries. Its basic concept is that a vital force of life, called Qi, surges through the body. Any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. This imbalance is most commonly thought to be caused by an alteration in the opposite and complementary forces that make up the Qi. These are called yin and yang.

Ancient Chinese believed that humans are microcosms of the larger surrounding universe, and are interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. Balance between health and disease is a key concept. TCM treatment seeks to restore this balance through treatment specific to the individual.

It is believed that to regain balance, you must achieve the balance between the internal body organs and the external elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.

Treatment to regain balance may involve:

• Acupuncture

• Moxibustion (the burning of herbal leaves on or near the body)

• Cupping (the use of warmed glass jars to create suction on certain points of the body)

• Massage

• Herbal remedies

• Movement and concentration exercises (such as tai chi)

Acupuncture is a component of TCM commonly found in Western medicine and has received the most study of all the alternative therapies. Some herbal treatments used in TCM can act as medicines and be very effective but may also have serious side effects. In 2004, for example, the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra and plants containing ephedra group alkaloids due to complications, such as heart attack and stroke. Ephedra is a Chinese herb used in dietary supplements for weight loss and performance enhancement. However, the ban does not apply to certain herbal products prepared under TCM guidelines intended only for short-term use rather than long-term dosing. It also does not apply to OTC and prescription drugs or to herbal teas.

If you are thinking of using TCM, a certified practitioner is your safest choice. The federally recognized Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) accredits schools that teach acupuncture and TCM. Many of the states that license acupuncture require graduation from an ACAOM-accredited school. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers separate certification programs in acupuncture, Chinese herbology, and Oriental bodywork.

TCM should not be used as a replacement for conventional or allopathic treatment, especially for serious conditions, but it may be beneficial when used as complementary therapy. Since some TCM herbal medicines can interfere or be toxic when combined with Western medicines, you should inform your doctor if you are using TCM.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Longmen Caves – (龍門 石窟) Henan, China

The Longmen caves (in Chinese: 龍門 石窟, which means “dragon door caves”) are a series of rock sanctuaries located in Henan province, China. These caves dot the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains, and represent one of the best examples of Chinese Buddhist art. The construction of the caves began in 493. The complex consists of 2,345 caves and over 100,000 statues of the Buddha and his disciples. There are also 2,800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas and different steles. Some of the caves date back to the Wei dynasty, but most of them were built at the behest of the Tang dynasty. In 2000 Longmen caves were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.