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The 5 Pillars of Chinese Medicine

Sun Si Miao (581-682 c.e.), one of the forefathers of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) wrote, “In cases of disease and disorder, the physician should first address diet and lifestyle. If that fails, then proceed to the more heroic modalities of acupuncture and herbs”. This simple message highlights the foundational pillars of holistic and preventive medicine: what we eat, how we think, and what we do on a daily basis amounts to the overall health of our body and mind. If these measures are unsuccessful or there is a need for stronger intervention then the physician should progress to the more invasive treatments of bodywork, herbal medicine, and acupuncture.

The 5 Pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • Dietary Therapy

According to TCM, diet plays a huge role in one’s health. What we choose to eat will inevitably help to build a strong and vigorous body or lead to illness and injury. The Chinese have been studying the effects of food on the body for over 2000 years and have developed an intricate system in which to diagnose and treat the body using food. The concept of using food as medicine is a common theme throughout most medical systems especially those which have been around the longest. These systems have learned through trial and error that the best medicine is preventive medicine, and the best preventive medicine is what we eat, how we think, and what we do on a daily basis.

  • Lifestyle Modifications

These recommendations are based on the diagnosis a patient is given and will, therefore, vary accordingly. Recommendations given may include:

  1. Movement advice such as what types of exercise are best for each person and how often or when an individual should exercise. For some people, less is more and it is better to be still rather than overstimulate the body, while others would benefit from more vigorous exercise to get the heart pumping and the blood flowing.

  2. Mind focusing exercises to help center the thoughts, calm emotions, and reset the nervous system.

  3. Breathing exercises to improve circulation, calm the nervous system, center the mind, and calm emotions.

  4. Work/life balance, for some people it is best to slow down and do less in their work and personal lives while others would benefit from a more robust work and personal life.

  • Massage Therapy and Bodywork

When there is a significant enough blockage within the myofascial system that movement therapy alone cannot release then bodywork is recommended.

  • Herbal Medicine

When the body is too out of balance to be treated with these milder approaches then herbal medicine is recommended. Perhaps the digestive system is unable to digest food properly or the chemical system cannot transport nutrients appropriately then we must call upon stronger medicinals to help heal the internal system and bring the body back to homeostasis.

  • Acupuncture and Moxibustion

The final pillar and most invasive tools in TCM are acupuncture and moxibustion. While these tools may be the most well known to the general public, they are considered by the forefathers of TCM to be the last resort when healing the body.

It is important to note that in the past a physician would be paid to keep their patients in good health and should their patient fall ill the doctor would bring them back to health for free, provided of course that their patient diligently practiced the self-care prescribed by their doctor.

We are, unfortunately, far from such a world where preventive care is considered the gold standard of healthcare, therefore, we must implement more invasive treatments in order to bring the body back to a balanced and healthy state.

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