Uncovering the Truth of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Herbal formulas according to this standard mode. Shutterstock.

21. Chinese Patent Medicines

In present-day China, there are still many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine who prescribe herbal formulas according to this standard model. But there are also many pharmaceutical companies which make prepared medicines that  you can buy over the counter in drugstores, just like aspirin or cough syrup in Western pharmacies.

These can be taken in tea or soup form. Shutterstock.

According to Chinese medical theory, each patient should receive a unique treatment specifically made for their individual constitution and imbalances. The Five elements theory in TCM, named as wood, fire, earth, metal and water, divides human body into five systems. Each system has its own specific features that can be inferred by analyzing those natural materials. The movement and interchange among the five elements are used to explain human body’s physiology. The patient then takes these herbs home and cooks them together as a kind of soup or tea.

An Overview of Chinese Medicine
Improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. Shutterstock.

22. Movement and concentration exercises (such as Tai Chi)

Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that, today, is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing.

Tai Chi is a gentle practice. Shutterstock.

Tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion. Tai chi has many different styles. Each style may subtly emphasize various tai chi principles and methods. There are variations within each style. Some styles may focus on health maintenance, while others focus on the martial arts aspect of tai chi. Tai chi is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it generally safe for all ages and fitness levels. In fact, because tai chi is a low-impact exercise, it may be especially suitable if you’re an older adult who otherwise may not exercise.

Starting off slow. Shutterstock.

23. The Basics of Tai Chi

Although you can rent or buy videos and books about tai chi, consider seeking guidance from a qualified tai chi instructor to gain the full benefits and learn proper techniques. Once you have the basics down, then you could consider using videos or doing it on your own. Practicing outside of classes is a great daily meditation exercise. There are many community gyms and clubs that offer classes free or low prices. And it is great to connect with other people in your area.

A group practicing tai chi. Shutterstock.

To find a class near you, contact local fitness centers, health clubs and senior centers. Tai chi instructors don’t have to be licensed or attend a standard training program. It’s a good idea to ask about an instructor’s training and experience, and get recommendations if possible. A tai chi instructor can teach you specific positions and breathing techniques. An instructor can also teach you how to practice tai chi safely, especially if you have injuries, chronic conditions, or balance or coordination problems. Although tai chi is slow and gentle, and generally doesn’t have negative side effects, it may be possible to get injured if you don’t use the proper techniques.

An Overview of Chinese Medicine
The ability to sense the position of one’s body in space. Shutterstock.

24. Muscle strength

Tai chi and movements like it, can help to improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. When practiced regularly, tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking. Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body. Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen. Tai chi can boost upper and lower body flexibility, strength, and balance.

Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.

A certified practitioner. Shutterstock.

25. What to consider when switching to TCM.

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. You’ll also find doctors who denounce traditional Chinese medicine as pseudoscience and quackery, pointing to some of its most outlandish claims, like the ancient practice of prescribing firecrackers to chase away demons, or mysterious concepts still embraced, such as a nebulous life force called qi (a term translated literally as “the steam that rises from the rice”). Others rail against its use of animal parts and warn against the potential dangers of its herbal formulas.

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. Make sure to do your research and consult a physician while making these decisions that will affect your overall health.

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