One day, one of my students in Beijing came into class with his back full of red marks. It looked like pieces of salami stuck to his back, but I am pretty sure it was something else. China uses a confusing mix of modern and traditional medical practices, that amuses and kind of frightens me. I figured that traditional ideas and techniques are incredibly old, still very important in China, and even adopted around the world. I have read about various interesting ideas that I would like to share with you.

We have all heard of Yin-Yang, but what is it exactly? I read that the core belief of Chinese medicine (中医, zhōngyī) is about the yin-yang (阴阳, yīnyáng), and the qi (气, qì) balance in the body and organs. Everything is a balance of yin and yang. Yin 阴 is female, dark and formless. Yang 阳 is male, light, and form. The most basic kinds of qi are yinqi (阴气) and yangqi (阳气). It is said that females have more yinqi, males have more yangqi. The qi is life energy, and its flow in the body depends on the environment and what happens to the body. Injury, physical suffering, and lack of proper food causes a qi deficiency 气虚 (qìxū). As people age, they lose qi. The core idea of Chinese medicine is that people can increase or decrease the various qi’s in the body, by various medical techniques, to create a healthful yin-yang balance. Having in mind that each person and part of the body has an ideal point of balance of yin and yang for optimal health.

If, due to injury or stress, the qi circulation gets blocked or stagnated, all the next medical techniques can be used to unblock the qi channels (called meridians), or increase or decrease the qi in various locations:

If a woman is sick or weak from a lack of yin qi, she can eat foods high in yin qi such as melons or goji berries or various high yin herbs. Older men may want to take herbal and food remedies, such as drinking ginseng tea or eating seahorse dishes, because they are high in yang content, or get a moxibustion treatment that adds Yang to the body.

This strange and famous medical technique involves inserting needles at precise meridian points. One of my Dutch friends – Margreet Bouwmeester – has studied and is now specialized in practising this medicine. If you are interested you could have a look at her website – Alona.

This ancient practice isn’t just a Chinese tradition, it has been practised for hundreds and thousands of years across Eurasia and North Africa. The Chinese style uses the acupuncture meridians. It is used to remove yang from the body, and it is appropriate for conditions such as bronchitis, heat stroke, and hot weather-related conditions. The picture shows the temporary marks this treatment left at the back of one of my students.

Herbal Medicine
In many ways, Chinese herbal medicine is similar to Western herbal medicine, though the emphasis is on promoting the yin-yang balance.

It seems like there are massage parlours everywhere, and there are various styles that are all thought to be good for the health, some of which are more appreciated by Chinese than foreigners.

Medicinal Cuisine Therapy
The emphasis in this traditional method of meal preparation, special recipes, and way of eating is to promote the yin-yang balance.

This is another surprising technique and is used to add Yang to the body. It is appropriate for women with birthing problems, older men, and cold weather-related health issues. The mugwort smoke is thought to have medicinal properties.

Meditation and special exercise, such as qigong and taichi also manipulates the qi balance and the body fluids in the body. Qigong and taichi practitioners think that special exercises and meditation helps the qi in the body to circulate. They think that by practising, they can learn to control the motion of qi, and use the qi to heal injured body parts, cure diseases, get healthier, defend themselves, and live longer.

Also read my post about Taoism, the history of Chinese medicine is tied up with the history of Daoist Philosophy.

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