Before one begins to study Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is helpful to grasp the fundamentals of its philosophy.

The most pivotal concept to explore is that of Yin and Yang, the duality in the nature of all things which drives life.  Yin and Yang are interconnected, diametrically opposite, and constantly transforming into each other; that is, each has the seeds of the other within it. Yin and Yang are graphically represented in the famous Tai Ji symbol.

Yin Yang Balls

Yin represents the soft, moist, cool, dark, quiet energies, whereas yang represents hard, dry, hot, bright, active energies. These basic tenets are used strategically in acupuncture and herbal theory to determine patterns for diagnosis and treatment to treat all kinds of ailments.  The body is like a garden, needing the proper conditions of moisture, warmth and nutrients to function properly.  The yin and the yang are supposed to be balanced, with neither getting out of control, in order for the body to feel healthy and strong.  Acupuncture and herbs are used to balance these yin and yang energies in the body, promoting a state of internal harmony.

Another foundational concept is that of qi. Qi is roughly translated as “finest matter substance”, but we can more easily understand it like electricity flowing through a wire. Qi runs in the meridians of the body, which travel the trunk and limbs, and it can be accessed through the acupuncture points. Different points along the meridians have different functions in terms of their effects, and each one takes on a distinct personality when being worked on. People generally become more attuned to their own qi in each point as they have more experiences getting acupuncture.  Qi can become weak and depleted from overwork or illness, which can make people feel fatigued or weaken their digestion.  Qi can also become blocked, which can create pain, inflammation, spasms, and cramping.  Acupuncture and herbs help keep the qi strong and flowing.

Chinese Medicine texts also classify body functions according to a system of  5 elements.  The human body is a microcosm of nature, subject to natural laws, and each of the the organs is represented by an elemental category of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Herbs and foods are also classified according to these elements.  These general principles are conceptually simple, but they are fleshed out in great detail to make up a complex medical system of interconnected body parts which dynamically influence each other.  It is a truly holistic system, and though the language used is often poetic, the theoretical model is extremely practical and effective when applied in a therapeutic context.

The 5 Chinese Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water