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Alternative Medicine & Its History – Part 3

Ancient Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) includes acupuncture, Qigong, herbal treatments, deep massage, and more. More than 25% of the world’s population practices TCM.

Several reputable groups, such as the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Health, find traditional Chinese medicine to be a viable alternative to contemporary medicine.

Many parts of TCM began well over 3,000 years ago in China. The focus of TCM is Qi (pronounced “Chee”), which is the body’s energy that connects it to the world around us. It is believed that all disorders and bodily problems are caused by the misalignment of Qi. Acupuncture is one of the most widely recognized methods of bringing the Qi into alignment.

Herbal remedies are popular in traditional Chinese medicine. They are used to relax and calm the patient’s emotions to avoid depression, and provide a more positive outlook on the illness. This helps tremendously in the healing process. Ginseng and herbal green tea are the most popular herbal remedies in China.

Exercise, mainly Qigong (pronounce “Chee Kung”), is also an important part of traditional Chinese medicine. Qigong involves posture, meditation, and slow, calculated body movements.

Tibetan Medicine

Tibetan Medicine is almost solely based on herbal remedies, and has been around for over 2,500 years. It is called “gSoba Rig-pa”. Tibetans mostly live in India because they have been in exile since the late 1950’s.  They practice Tibetan Buddhism.

There is a Tibetan Medical Institute in Northern India, where doctors studying Tibetan medicine attend for 7 years before earning a degree.

The underlying belief in Tibetan medicine is that all illnesses are caused by poisonous thinking which include dread, denial, and want. This concept ties to the principles of Buddhist philosophy.

The three poisonous thoughts are believed to be caused by poor diet, inappropriate behavior, and the imbalance of time and season. This concept is more complicated than this, but this simplification will give a general sense of it.

Cures are linked to all systems of the body working together. The elimination of sweat, feces and urine contributes to this harmony.

Similar to the Chinese “Qi”, the Tibetans have the Rlung, which is the overall life force that connects us to the universe. Rlung has five types:

  1. Centered in the brain. Life grasping – controls breathing, intellect, sneezing and swallowing.
  2. Centered in the chest. Upward moving – controls verbal ability and stamina.
  3. Centered in the heart. All pervading – controls all movement like that of the orifices of the body and walking.
  4. Centered in the stomach. Fire accompanying – controls digestion and metabolism.
  5. Centered in the rectum. Downward cleansing – controls everything that is expelled from the body, such as babies, menstrual blood or semen.

Tibetan medicine usually handles sickness diagnosis by analysis of the tongue and urine. The spiritual element is also at play in Tibetan medicine, with much attention spent focusing on the type and temperament of spirits in the body.

American Indian Medicine (aka Native American Medicine)

North American Indian tribes have been practicing medicine for what some claim to be over 40,000 years.  The medical information and techniques are handed down from generation to generation; ensure the longevity of the practice.

Some remedies are tribe-specific, although all tribal medicine is called Native American Medicine, collectively. Native Americans believe that man is one with nature and that the elements provide strength and can cure disease.

It is fascinating to note that at the same time that Native American medicine was being practiced in North America, Traditional Chinese Medicine was being practiced a half a world away. Ayurveda (medicine practiced in India), was also practiced at this time, and will be covered next.

All of these traditional medical practices are based on the same fundamental belief that a person’s lifestyle and environment should be taken into consideration before choosing a treatment path. There are subtle differences between the practices that are specific to the region.

Native American medicine recognizes a purification procedure involving herbal smoke before and after treatment. Treatments include the use of sage and cedar smoke to repel negative energy. Negative energy is considered the pain released by someone who is ill, or the pain that the healer takes on themselves from their patients. Therapeutic touch is used. Singing, chanting, drums and rattles accompany the healing during the session.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic Medicine is practiced in India, and focuses on natural healing. Practitioners believe that it is important for the body to be balanced, and all medicines are based on vegetables and minerals, with the active ingredients from plant alkaloids.

In Ayurvedic Medicine there is the belief that there are three elements in the body, called Kapha, Pitta, and Vata, that cause disease.

  1. Kapha: This energy is caused by the lack of stabilizing the balance in the body.  These are commonly called viruses by Westerners.
  2. Pitta: This energy supports vision, temperature, hunger, thirst, intelligence, and happiness. When out of alignment, the outcomes include weight fluctuation, dehydration, depression, digestive issues, and apathy.
  3. Vata: This energy keeps the overall balance between the earth, sky and world around us in check with ourselves. If it falls out of balance, sickness is invited in.

Disease is called Vyaadhi, and it is treated by focusing on the imbalance of elements.