What is Oriental Medicine?

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What is This Mumble Jumble Woo Woo Oriental Medicine Stuff About Anyways?
Cameron Bishop DAOM, L.Ac.

An explanation of Oriental medicine can come from many perspectives. A western explanation to some is comforting but is dry. An Eastern explanation is difficult to the western mind due to barriers of culture, language and background.

Most Americans poorly understand health, bodies, medicine, science and the East. Our basic cultural paradigm is to look for something outside ourself to save us - whether it is technology, a knight in shining armor, doctor god, magic, the perfect spouse, a savior or a drug. The basic paradigm of the East is to cultivate something within, whether connection to the ancestors, nature, heart or Buddha consciousness. I am not arguing one is right or wrong but just observing two broad perspectives.

Western medicine divorced itself from the soul and spirit centuries ago in order to appease the dominant church at the time. It adopted a mechanical model of the body being a clock. You take it part and you put it back together. Western science is a collection of this knowledge and consistent reproduction of it. We all know it excels in surgery and emergency medicine. Time has told it is not perfect and I am not sure any one is arguing its perfection. For every one question it answers, it often asks ten more.

How does acupuncture work from a western perspective? We know through studies that the blood levels of neurotransmitters and endorphins. There are effects on brain wave patterns, bio photo filters, and thermographs. Much is going on during the acupuncture treatment but neurology has not caught up with acupuncture to fully understand it.

If one is to be up front- the mechanism for most medications is unknown. They work but we often do not know why. A lot of it is trial and error, a few breaks or lucky accidents and some genius. My best friend growing up is a neurologist and he often tells me "Don't let them kid you, Cameron. We understand 1% of the brain. We are not even sure how seizure medicines work and even anti-depressants. It's just theory".

Eastern medicine has thousands of years of the collected observation and reproduction of remedies using herbs, points, and other modalities. The base view is the body, is not a clock but rather a garden made up of "Ki". What is "Ki" (Chinese is Chi or Qi)? It has often been mistranslated as "energy". It is untranslatable in English, simply because the cultural concept does not exist in the West. There are some weak comparisons in the West, however, living and speaking the language I can report it is fused into the culture of the East. If we translate it as "energy" we began to think of electricity and that gives a whole idea of positive and negative, direction and so forth. The classics speak of Ki moving like the wind not like electricity.

One often hears about Yin and Yang being positive and negative or light and dark. This is a pale and poor explanation but it adequate for the first time hearers. The true depths of the theory are deep involved and require study. I am always amazed how many people tattoo the yin-yang symbol on their body with no understanding of its meaning.

It may surprise you what is called Traditional Chinese Medicine as taught in acupuncture schools today is really People's Republic of China socialized medicine system.

Traditional acupuncture theory was Five Phase theory. The idea was the fused ki of the meridians (body flows of ki), seasons, organs, and more regulated the health of the individual. Disease came from a lack of luster in the ki. Groupings of signs and symptoms pointed to which ki and further evaluation determined the extent. Treatment with feedback from the body systems (change of pulse, tongue, and muscle tone) allowed evaluation and prediction of outcome.

Let me give you an example: A lady reports headaches starting from tension in the shoulders and back of the neck leading to behind one eye. She gets easily irritated when tired, craves carbohydrates and when more stressed wakes up several times during the night. Her headaches are possibly worse around her cycle. Her big toe hurts when she eats meat. Her doctor says she has mild gout.

The liver meridian starts on the big toe and moves up the inside leg into the sexual organs, it says hello to the intestines and lungs and runs deeply into the liver organ itself. It meets its mate the gall bladder meridian which moves through the shoulder, back of the head, and eventually behind the eye. Disruptions in the meridians do not necessary mean disruptions of the organ.

The clinical text book picture would show weakness in the liver evaluations zones of the tongue, pulse and abdomen. Common symptoms would be easily irritated, restless sleep, possible digestive disruptions, possible rabbit pellet constipation, some types of head aches especially side, and back of head or behind the eye.

Western medicine would have a different view of the patient. The lady, if insistent, would probably walk out with a referral, several medications for gout, headache, and migraine, sleep stress and maybe even birth control, or anti-depressant. Even an "alternative medicine" medical doctor may prescribe supplements from a western perspective suggesting single herbs to treat single symptom.

Eastern medicine would recognize that a mild liver pattern may present slight headaches, irritability and cravings or nothing but signs in the pulse in tongue. A severe liver pattern may manifest as high blood pressure, some heart diseases, depression-anxiety cycles and more. The degree of the pattern would determine the herbs, points and techniques.

Well, do the medicines jive? Well, melatonin is made in the liver and involves sleep, some headaches are hormonal which are made and regulated in the liver, gout is a liver disorder, and the liver makes most of the cholesterol of the body which is considered important in heart disease.

Whether you want to think about from the Eastern or Western approach you can see there are connections. The ideal future will hold a medicine with the patient in mind using a combination of techniques and medications for the ultimate health and prevention of disease.