I started studying Chinese Medicine 25 years ago. It was the most significant event in my way of thinking today. It opened up a whole new way of seeing the body and life in general. It was the beginning of my real journey into a new way of being. Soon after I started studying it, I was lucky to come across Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, who subsequently became my primary teachers and close friends. Apart from being the nicest people, they are brilliant and the foremost teachers of Chinese Medicine in the USA. Their book. Between Heaven and Earth is the classic book on Chinese Medicine and we are very honored to have them blog for the site.
Here is a piece written by them entitled: THE VIEW OF CHINESE MEDICINE
Chinese medicine maintains that preserving the strength and integrity of the body as a whole is the most important bulwark against the development of disease. This means that, while efforts are made therapeutically to relieve symptoms and counter pathogenic processes, an equal or greater emphasis is placed upon replenishing the body’s natural substances (Qi, Moisture, and Blood) and restoring the coordinated activity of the body’s primary organ systems (known as the Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung, and Kidney Networks). It is the ability of the organism to sustain its own defensive capability, regenerative potential, and regulatory mechanisms that enables it to remain adaptable and well.
Early in the history of Chinese medicine, around the 2nd and 1st millennia B.C.E. (before the common era), the primary causes of illness were thought to be the negative, external influences of disembodied forces such as ancestral spirits and powerful deities that indifferently and capriciously ruled the weather, seasonal change, the abundance of crops, and the lives of ordinary people. The dominant mode of healing during these ancient times was shamanic intervention by sorcerers who knew how to communicate and negotiate with other-worldly entities. Centuries later, during the Han dynasty (200 B.C.E. — 200 A.C.E.), the notion of supernatural forces as agents of disease was replaced by a more sophisticated, rational, and empirical paradigm in which human life and the world at large were understood to be governed by natural, impersonal forces–what we would now consider to be the natural laws of physics and biology.
It was during this 400 year period of fervent intellectual growth that the cosmological and philosophical theories of the Daoist and Confucianist sages (referred to as Yin/Yang and Five Phase Theory) were logically organized and systematically applied to the art and science of medicine in a quintessential medical document: The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. The anonymous authors of this seminal treatise emphasized three causative conditions for the genesis of disease: harsh environmental forces such as changes in climate or weather (external causes); intense or prolonged emotional and mental distress (internal causes); and personal behaviors such as overeating, undereating, consuming spoiled or poisoned food, overwork, sexual overindulgence, lack of appropriate physical activity (exercise), and unethical conduct (neither external nor internal causes). A predominance or persistence of any of these factors could upset the harmonious relationship between a person and his or her physical or social environment, as well as disrupting the smooth functioning of the body itself, resulting in physical, mental, and spiritual disturbances. More importantly, these ancient scholar-physicians clearly recognized that all of these influences (causes) were mutually interrelated, meaning that they did not exist or operate independently of each other.
Another important book known as The Treatise on Febrile Diseases Induced By Cold was written at the beginning of the 3rd century. This text radically reformed Chinese medical thought and practice. In the preface, the author, Zhang Zhong Jing recounts the loss of more than 200 members of his family over a ten year period due to the ravages of an epidemic. Zhang became the first Chinese medical scholar since the authors of The Yellow Emperor’s Classic to formulate a coherent theory linking etiology (the conditions and mechanisms that initiate illness), diagnosis (the methods for determining the nature and behavior of an illness), and treatment (the acupuncture, herbal, and dietary therapies appropriate for each type and stage of illness).
This dissertation focused on acute and chronic ailments triggered by exposure to external influences (climate and weather)–what modern bio-medicine would define as infectious, allergic, and physically or chemically induced disease–in other words, environmental illness. Zhang believed that a person became ill because he or she was unable to cope with the stress of sudden, prolonged, or intense fluctuations in temperature, pressure, humidity, and the movement of air (drafts). In the language of Chinese medicine these causative or pathogenic agents are labeled Heat, Cold, Dampness, Dryness, and Wind and can occur in any sequence or combination. Thus, the reason that an individual becomes sick or unable to recover, is that the harshness of external conditions and events impairs the individual’s innate ability to heal.
Qi is considered to be both the foundation of life and that which organizes, regulates, and sustains all the tissues, functions, and processes of the body. Without Qi, life-giving breath is not disseminated, blood is not distributed, food is neither digested nor assimilated, wastes and toxins are not eliminated, growth and development do not progress, and the mind and potential of the individual does not ripen. Qi is the unifying concept that joins the inner life of an individual with the outer world of nature.
This capacity to recover equilibrium, to repair damage, and to restore the body to a healthy state is entirely dependent upon the quantity and quality of Qi (pronounced chee), sometimes translated as animating life force, vital energy, or quintessential essence. Qi is understood to be the intrinsic, dynamic, self-regulating and self-maintaining power of the organism. All healing in Chinese Medicine is directed, ultimately, at conserving, protecting, augmenting, restoring, and facilitating Qi.
The movement of wind and water, procession of the seasons, cycles of night and day, and the continual variation of climate and weather are the environmental manifestations of Qi. The behaviors, responses, experiences, transformations, and rhythms of the body are the internal physiological and psychological expressions of Qi. Qi is further delineated into five body constituents, the basic material substances and primary processes–essence and dynamism–from which the body is composed and by which it is shaped. These five constituents progress from the insubstantial to the material: Shen (thoughts, sensations, feelings), Qi (warmth, movement, metabolic activity), Moisture (internal fluids and secretions), Blood (nutritive elements and structural components), and Essence (the adaptive, regenerative, reproductive, creative, developmental aspects).
These five constituents are generated, distributed, conserved, adjusted, and protected by five primary organ systems known as the five Organ Networks: the Heart, Lung, Spleen, Liver, and Kidney. These networks are coalitions of tissue, function, and intelligence that unite not only their corresponding visceral organs, but also a complex of channels (acupuncture meridians) that link the structural and functional elements of the body.
Health is the consequence of the unimpeded and coordinated interaction of the five body constituents and the five Organ Networks. Illness is the result of a depletion, obstruction, or unnatural alteration of the body’s constituents and a derangement of the function of its organ systems