Trying Traditional Chinese Medicine

Stress and headaches? Fear and back pain? Your unique blend of mind-body symptoms may be a good fit for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a 3,000-year-old form of medicine that works to address both psychological and physiological symptoms. From swimmer Michael Phelps’ cupping marks at the 2016 summer Olympics to research studies on acupuncture and Tai Qi, interest is continually growing in modern day applications for TCM.

TCM encompasses several modalities, such as dietary theory, breathing, movement, and bodywork therapy. Broadly speaking, TCM has three overarching goals:

·         To uncover the causes of existing symptoms

·         To reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of existing symptoms

·         To prevent these symptoms from occurring moving forward

traditional_chinese_medicine.jpgDeveloping an awareness of how the mind and body influence each other is the first step in addressing the causes of one’s symptoms. With observation, we may notice we clench our jaw or breathe shallowly, while in another context, we feel a deep sense of contentment to the point that our chronic pain is more manageable. We may apply manual pressure to the jaw or receive an acupuncture needle in the temple or big toe to help reduce jaw tension. Alternatively, we may develop more balance in the diet, to reduce our perceived stress and how we register tension in the body. All in all, a typical TCM journey may involve not only the use of external therapies such as acupuncture, but also making better, more sustainable lifestyle choices.

TCM also asks questions about one’s physical symptoms that may seem unusual: in what weather/season or time of day is the symptom better or worse? How does the symptom respond to movement, direct pressure, or rest? What foods do we prefer or even crave? Do we feel tired or bloated after eating, or feel unable to stop eating or drinking? The answers give clues to our clinical patterns and possible lifestyle changes that will help us to heal.

What to Expect at a TCM Appointment at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt

A different philosophy

Rather than focusing solely on symptoms, TCM strives to view the entire trajectory of a person’s experience, including the reasons they seek care. One way of describing this is “root and branch.” Typically, the symptoms for which we seek care are branches, whereas the underlying pattern causing any symptoms is the root. Adjusting the root (underlying pattern) affects the expression of the symptoms, the branches. As preventative care, a healthier root can give us resilience going forward.

A goal of change, not cure

One component of Traditional Chinese Medicine is Yin and Yang, clinical criteria which also represent the importance of change. Yin and Yang are never fixed; they constantly evolve. Along the same lines, any symptom, whether emotional or physical, can always change. We may never be asymptomatic, yet our suffering can decrease the more we participate in our own health and healing. Rather than resist or try to control change, we can make lifestyle choices that support our changing needs.

A longer intake

A TCM practitioner may ask about both emotional and physical symptoms. Be prepared to describe your specific experience of everyday activities. For example: how do you feel emotionally and physically at waking and at sleep? Or, when you are waking up, at what time do you rise?

New vocabulary

When working with a TCM practitioner, you will likely hear language you haven’t heard before. For example, Qi/“chi” is the energy that powers the body and the mind. A TCM practitioner can assess Qi through an individual’s behavior, body language, subjective reports of symptoms, outlook, and medical history. There is no blood test or lab scan for Qi. Qi can renew daily or even hourly, so there is great capacity for change. You may also hear a TCM practitioner mention nature terms like Metal or Fire, which are part of the Five Elements, a system of reframing that includes both mental and physical signs. Practitioners may mention that Elements are “excessive” or “deficient”; this is an assessment like gas in a tank, not a value judgment. TCM practitioners have a goal of relative balance, and are continually surveying the body and mind in order to help build equilibrium.

A cumulative impact

While immediate relief may be possible, cumulative effects are more common. The intensity, frequency, and duration of a symptom tends to decrease over time, particularly when treatments accompany lifestyle changes. Yes, you may need to make personal changes in terms of your nutrition, exercise, work/life balance, and other facets of your life ­– but now you know, change is inevitable!