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Eastern medicine has been going mainstream in the last few years. It’s moved beyond simply being a fringe medical practice in the western world and has become widely accepted as a relevant and effective alternative medicine. This comes as no surprise to practitioners in India and China; Eastern medicine including Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine, is steeped in thousands of years of history, study and practice.
Both schools of Eastern medicine encompass a wide variety of practices, not simply prescriptions. These alternatives focus on much more of a holistic approach, healing the mind, body and soul. This includes herbal remedies, various forms of massage, acupuncture, specific diet, exercise recommendations and more generally encompass a way of life.
There are many similarities between TCM and Ayurvedic practices. First, they both focus on an approach that looks at how the human body is connected to and reflected by the larger world, and ultimately the universe. They also both focus on an essential energy flowing through the human body, this is called Qi in TCM and dosha in Ayurvedic medicine. There is importantly a focus on providing holistic healthcare , which not only can include herbal remedies, but also alterations to diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.
While a full in-depth study of Eastern medicine is beyond this article (that would require volumes!), this article can present the key parts of Eastern Medicine and give you a better understanding of why are they still relevant and beneficial to us today.
Daily Qigong or Meditation
Meditation is found in both forms of ancient Eastern medicine. In TCM it is referred to Qigong, which has a few different forms, but each consists of a posture, breathing focus, and specific intention. In each methodology, meditation is an important daily practice which has benefits for the mind, body and spirit. This includes increasing mindfulness, reducing stress, increasing vitality, and boosting the immune system. There is also a large body of research supporting the way meditation has positive impacts on all vital systems including the digestive, lymphatic, circulatory, respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Food as Medicine
Nutritional therapy is nothing new, but isn’t considered a vital aspect of mainstream modern medicine. However, using food as medicine is one of the core aspects of both TCM and Ayurvedic medicinal practices. In Ayurveda, there is a focus on eating a balanced diet through focusing on the Six Tastes, which are sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent, while also ensuring that every plate is full of deep, bright, colourful food. Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on using the healing properties of various foods to heal the body. These ideas shouldn’t be surprising to us, as everyone knows we are what we eat. The food we put into our body, is in direct relationship to our health. Importantly, both forms of Eastern medicine focus not only on proper intention during the consumption of healing foods, but also on the intention set during the preparation.
Increasing Digestive Energy
Following on the idea that food is medicine, Ayurvedic medicine also focuses on increasing the digestive powers of the body. Not only in terms of food, but also in terms of emotional and sensory information absorbed by the mind and body. The digestive energy is called agni (fire) in Ayurvedic medicine, and is the theory that if we allow negative substances or energies to build up in our body we will affect the overall health of our mind and body. Building strong agni, will not only boost the immune system and various tissues, but also allow for the elimination of toxic wastes effortlessly from the body. Without a strong digestive energy, it’s believed that there can be obstructions to the flow of nutrition, energy and information throughout the body – the basis of many diseases.
Perhaps the most well known, and widespread, aspect of TCM, acupuncture has been proven to be an effective relief to both physical and emotional stresses. Particularly in people suffering from mental stresses such as anxiety, fatigue, focus, and various other imbalances, acupuncture can help relax, realign and re-energize the mind. Patients also seek out acupuncture to treat chronic pain, without the use of strong prescriptions. This includes finding relief for chronic neck and back pain, headaches, menstrual cramping and reducing vomiting and nausea for patients going through chemotherapy.
A Holistic Approach
Eastern medicine goes far beyond a simple prescription medicine. Both schools focus intensely on providing a whole body and whole mind approach to healthcare. Although not common among modern medicine practitioners, it is obviously an essential aspect to healing. For example, depression cannot be cured through medicine alone; instead there is a focus on improving diet, exercise and spirit. Another example is in treatments of inflammatory diseases. Instead of simply recommending specific natural medicines, doctors also take a close look at diet, exercises to adopt, and meditation practices to begin.
Listening to Nature
Another characteristic found in both forms of eastern medicine, is the focus on nature. In Ayurvedic medicine, this specifically means listening to your body (which is after all a part of nature). The belief is that as you become in tune with your mind and body, you will be able to listen to what it wants and needs to flourish. In TCM, it is believed that since the human body is a part of nature, and in complete harmony with it, nature can also provide the resources to heal the body. In both traditions, there is a focus on finding a harmony and a balance between the body, and with the external environment.
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