« Back to the glossary index


Traditional Chinese Medicine


Traditional Chinese medicine is a holistic system. The fundamental concepts are embedded in the philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism. Health is understood as the cooperative functioning parts within a context. The highest code of conduct is to act spontaneously in accordance with the Tao (one’s own nature). The movements of the Tao are guided and informed by the primordial pair of opposites, Yin and Yang. In addition to Yin-Yang, Chinese medical thinking was predicated on two other major principles, namely, Chi (vital energy) and the Five Phases doctrine. Chi originally meant “air” or “breath “. In a contemporary manner, it is usually translated as “energy”. It circulates throughout the body nourishing every part. One major pathway of its circulation is via 12 meridians which form a continuous pathway through limbs, trunk and head. On these meridians acupuncture points have been defined. The Five Phases or Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) are actually sub-classifications of Yin and Yang. Their importance lies in the way they change and interact with the rest of the system. These aspects form a major role in identification of a disorder or disharmony.

Disease and diagnosis

Diseases are associated with “blockage” (“deficiency”) of Chi energy circulation. A disease is traditionally diagnosed by inspection, listening and smelling, inquiry, and palpation. Inspection refers to the visual assessment of the patient. Listening and smelling refer to the quality of speech and breath as well as awareness of odors of breath and body. Palpation includes pulse examination. Pulse diagnosis provides significant information about the patient’s condition. A medical history is taken.  It queries about the sensations of hot and cold, perspiration, diet, hearing, thirst, previous illnesses, and many others. From the diagnostic process, the practitioner better understands the disease so that it can be addressed with effective therapy.


The most common branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine are acupuncture (see Acupuncture), herbology and either Qigong or Taiji (Tai chi), which are but a few branches in a very large system. The objective of the therapies is to redirect and normalize the flow of Chi in the body. In Acupuncture the body is stimulated to correct its own energy flow and balance by needling or pressing specific acupuncture points. The practice of Qigong (also spelled Chi Kung, Qi Gong, Chi Gong, Chi Gung, amongst others) and Taiji (or Tai Chi Chuan) refers to mental exercises, breathing and physical exercises to balance the subtle energy system in the body. The Cupping method is often used in conjunction to other methods such as moxibustion and acupuncture. This technique brings blood and lymph to the skin surface, increasing local circulation. Chinese medical herbs (Herbology/ Herbalism) are usually prescribed for their action upon particular meridians and might be used in conjunction with moxa or acupuncture. It requires detailed understanding of how to combine herbs.