Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is composed of 5 branches; acupuncture, herbology, massage, nutrition, and energetics. Additional techniques of moxabustion, cupping, and gua sha may also be incorporated.
Acupuncture is the use of needles on acupuncture points and meridians to promote the movement qi and blood in the body. It can help remove blockages, move excess, or aid in building up deficiencies. Acupuncture needles are very thin, much thinner than hypodermic needles used for injections. They are inserted often painlessly, either just into the skin, or deeper into the muscle layer, and assist the body’s inner healing abilities.
Herbology is the use of herbal formulas composed of 2 or more herbs cooked together and taken orally, or applied topically as washes or salves. Formulas use the combined, synergistic properties of their ingredients, assisting the body to reach a state of balance and optimum performance. Traditionally raw herbs were cooked in water and drank; today many traditional formulas are conveniently available in pills, or in powdered form that can easily be mixed and drank with warm water.
Massage assists in the movement of qi and blood. It helps promote a feeling of well being and relaxation, and also aids in healing trauma and injury to tissues and joints. Tuina, meaning “push pull,” is the traditional form of chinese massage, and is either used by itself or combined with acupuncture.
Nutrition in chinese medicine focuses on the ability of foods to support health, and is a vital aspect of self treatment. Foods are eaten for their specific energetic qualities and not just for their micro and macro nutrients. What may be good for one person is not necessarily appropriate for someone else, or even for the same person at another time. Diets of seasonally fresh, whole foods, energetically chosen, can affect significant and sustainable changes in the patient’s health over time, and only require a simple understanding of food, awareness of their effects, and the patient’s participation to utilize them appropriately and with regularity.
Energetics is the most subtle and esoteric aspect of TCM. Qi gong, taiji, and meditation are performed by the patient, and once learned, require only intention and practice. Using various combinations of movement, breathing, or just simple mental focus can have profound effects by reducing stress and physical tension, calming the emotions and mind, and allowing the body to enter a place of repose where healing can take place.
Moxabustion is a technique of applying heat to specific points or areas of the body. Moxa is used to warm points and meridians, move and strengthen qi and blood, and to prevent disease. Often a moxa stick, which is created by rolling dried mugwort in paper, is used to apply the heat. Moxa can also be applied to the ends of needles, ignited in a moxa box to treat large areas of the body, placed as cones upon salt or slices of herbs, or even applied in small rice grain amounts directly to the skin.
Cupping is a technique of creating a vacuum to remove congestion beneath areas of the body. A cup is applied to the surface of the skin, while suction is created, traditionally by burning paper or cotton inside the cup, which creates a vacuum, although modern special cups that pair with a pump are also used. This pulls blood to the surface, moving it and qi to remove congestion either from cold and damp, reduce swelling and pain, and can even ease congestion and coughs in the chest from respiratory ailments.
Gua sha is the technique of scraping the skin, which produces light bruises. Using a spoon or other gua sha tool with a smooth edge, blood is moved and brought to the surface to ease stagnation, relieve pain, and release adhesions in the muscle. It can also be used to help reduce fever, and accompanying aches and pains from flu and colds.