Our bodies are in transition. We are always in transition. As long as we are alive, change is inevitable. Chinese medicine looks at normal and abnormal patterns of change and gently moves the body towards harmonious balance.
This constant ebb and flow is also recognized in Western medicine through a primary concept of homeostasis, meaning we maintain balance in the body through multiple physiological processes. Homeostasis is the continual balancing act. There are many examples of homeostasis in the body: I can’t begin to count them all nor do I believe science has identified them all. We are all still learning.
A simple example illustrating homeostasis is our body’s relatively narrow range of normal temperature. If we get too hot, we sweat to cool down. If we get too cold, we shiver to generate warmth.
A concept of balancing is essential to Chinese medicine. If something is moving too fast, we attempt to slow it. Too slow, quicken it. Too hot, cool it. Too cold, warm it. Too wet, dry it. Too dry, moisten and lubricate it. And so on…
Where did this ancient but ever-evolving medicine look to produce theories of change in the human body? They went macro: they looked at patterns of change in nature, on the land, in the sea, and in the sky. They looked at harmonious nature, always in flux, and they considered what happens when the ever-balancing act is not functioning properly. If we move outside the norm of balance, we either recover and get back in balance, or we develop pathology. Chinese medicine has treatments to support normal physiology as well as pathophysiology. It’s all a spectrum.
Examples with conditions and balancing treatment principles:
Too hot: fever -> clear heat
Too cold: some infertility -> warm the uterus
Too wet: moist rash -> dry it out
Too dry: itchy flaky skin -> moisten and lubricate
Too slow: elderly constipation -> move the bowels
Too fast: anxious mental chatter -> slow, calm mind
Or, another way to consider this is to examine one common condition, for example, constipation. We look at the root, the cause of constipation, to determine principles of treatment. Example:
Constipation caused by slow motility -> move the bowels (abdominal massage, acupuncture)
Constipation caused by dry stools -> moisten (fluid intake) and lubricate (oily foods)
Constipation caused by too much heat creating dryness -> clear heat and moisten
Whereas constipation is one common symptom, there are different treatments depending on cause. Chinese medicine seeks to discern patterns of harmony and disharmony in the body to help bring them back into balance.
One reason Chinese medicine can preventively treat a condition is because patterns of disharmony arrive before disease. If we can recognize the pattern early, it’s easier to treat.
Commonly quoted but still so useful to remember, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin