Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine
by Sasha Harrington

While many forms of natural therapy are best termed "complimentary," Traditional
Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the few complete systems of holistic medicine. It is
also one of the oldest with a tradition that spans over 4000 years of application and
experience. A TCM practitioner uses acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine,
food therapy, massage, meditation, and/or exercise to correct imbalances in the

However, instead of diagnosing and treating specific diseases or disorders, he/she
diagnoses and treats syndromes that are usually described in terms of the Eight
Principles (Interior and Exterior; Hot and Cold; Excess and Deficiency; Yin and
Yang), the Six Pernicious Influences (Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness, Dryness, Summer
Heat), and the Five Elements/Ten Organ Systems. For instance, rather than
diagnosing an animal with acute pancreatitis, the TCM practitioner may make a
diagnosis of Liver Energy Congestion, Liver Fire Flaming Upward, or Hot Stomach,
depending on the symptoms accompanying the pancreatitis.

In TCM the cause of disease is viewed as an imbalance, blockage, or interruption in
the flow of Qi (pronounced "chee"). The concept of Qi is very similar to what the
homeopath calls the Life-force and what is known to the Ayurvedic practitioner as
Prana. This imbalance in the flow of Qi is described in terms of Yin (negative) and
Yang (positive) which reflects the dualistic qualities and interdependence of all
phenomena. Very generally speaking, Yang diseases are External, Hot, Excessive,
Dry, and Acute, while Yin diseases tend to be Internal, Cold, Deficient, Wet, and
Chronic. Most forms of disease begin in the Yang stage but may turn into the Yin
stage if allowed to progress. It's often a positive sign of recovery when a Yin disease
turns into a Yang disease, but the opposite is the case when Yang conditions become
Yin conditions.

The Five Element Theory holds that each element is connected to an organ system
(considered either yin and yang, except for the kidneys which have both yin and yang
functions) which in turn corresponds to specific climates, seasons, times of day,
directions, colors, foods, herbs, emotions, sounds, secretions, odors, flavors, body
parts, etc. The organ systems are connected by invisible pathways called Meridians
through which Qi flows. Hence diagnosis and treatment of an imbalance in one organ
system requires knowledge of the interactions between the organ systems.

TCM always considers and treats the individual as a whole. Where TCM differs from
many Western approaches to holistic medicine is that the individual is not viewed as
separate from his/her environment. Internal balance is not possible if one is out of
touch with one's external environment. Indeed, TCM is based on an understanding of
nature and its relationship to specific organ systems. Everything is interwoven -- there
is no part of the body, mind, spirit, or outer world that is isolated from the whole.
Health is viewed as a balance between Yin and Yang energies within the individual,
and between the individual and his/her environment.