Eastern Asian Medicine
What Is Eastern Asian Medicine?
Eastern Asian Medicine is a whole medical system that has been used for thousands of years to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. It is based on the concept that Qi (the body’s vital energy, prounounced “chee”) flows along meridians or channels throughout the body and keeps a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health in balance.
The framework of Eastern Asian Medicine has evolved over 2300 years into a comprehensive, internally coherent philosophy. Polar opposites which are bound into balanced union are the basis of this philosophy: Yin and Yang, Earth and Heaven, night and day, cold and hot, wet and dry, inner and outer, body and mind, are some examples. When these pairs are balanced and in harmony, health flourishes. When the healthy balance of this energy is disturbed due to trauma, poor diet, medications, stress, hereditary conditions, environmental factors, or excessive emotional issues, the result is pain or illness.
Eastern Asian Medicine focuses on correcting these imbalances, thereby stimulating the body’s natural ability to heal itself. In other words, Eastern Asian medicine focuses on treating the factors that cause disease.
Eastern Asian Medicine includes Acupuncture, Diet Therapy, Herbal Therapy, Meditation, therapeutic/restorative physical exercise (such as Qi-Gong and Tai Qi), Moxibustion, and Massage. Eastern Asian Medicine is also called Traditional Chinese Medicine or “TCM.”
Acupuncture is one of the major treatment methods used in Eastern Asian medicine. Like all healing techniques used in this ancient medical system, Acupuncture works with the body’s inherent vital energy, or “Qi” (pronounced “chee”). Early practitioners of Eastern Asian medicine discovered that this vital energy flows along specific pathways called “meridians” or “channels”. Acupuncture points are specific locations on the meridians which, when stimulated with either finger pressure or acupuncture needles, are able to affect the flow of energy through the meridians. Though no one knows precisely how this happens, modern research has been able to demonstrate that the acupuncture points are indeed physiologically different from non-acupuncture points in that they
are areas on the body which have increased electrical conductivity. Researchers have also found that the slender needles induce the release of endorphins and cortisone which are the body’s natural pain killers.
When performed by a trained professional, acupuncture is a very safe procedure. Acupuncture needles are sterile and are very fine – only about the diameter of a human hair. The acupuncturist first inserts these fine, flexible needles to their proper depth, which depends on the area of the body being treated and the thickness of the patient’s body tissue. The practitioner then stimulates the needles either by manipulating them manually or by attaching them to a small electro-acupuncture device which uses a 9-volt battery to produce a small electrical pulse.
Stimulation of the acupuncture points acts to clear blockages of energy, balance any excesses or deficiencies of energy, and promote the normal flow of Qi through the meridians. Restoring the proper flow of Qi through the meridians helps the body mobilize and enhance its own natural self-healing mechanisms, thus treating or preventing illness. After the initial stimulation of the acupuncture needles, the patient then typically rests with the needles in place. During the treatment, heat may be applied to certain areas of the body or specific needles through the use of far-infrared (or “TDP”) lamps or the use of moxibustion. While the patient rests, the acupuncturist may also check the patient’s pulses to determine if the desired therapeutic effect has been achieved.
A typical acupuncture treatment lasts anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the condition being treated. Most people don’t find the insertion of the needles or their stimulation painful, though they may experience sensations of heaviness, achiness, fullness or tingling in the area where the needle is inserted. They may also experience a sensation of Qi flowing along the meridians. Most people find acupuncture to be quite relaxing and some even fall asleep during treatment. At the conclusion of the treatment, the needles are removed and discarded. The practitioner will then review any home care, herbal formulas, exercises or therapeutic diet recommendations with the patient.
Cupping is a technique utilized by many Acupuncture practitioners to alleviate pain and muscular spasm (especially in the large muscles of the back, legs and arms), treat the symptoms of various lung ailments, and invigorate the movement of Qi and Blood throughout the body and in specific meridians or channels. Cupping is used extensively throughout Asia, and variations also have been used in many other parts of the world, such as Europe, Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and Africa. Cupping’s long history of use in acupuncture practice is well noted and it is considered a specific, unique therapy which complements Acupuncture and other Eastern Asian Medicine therapies.
Cupping is a safe, non-invasive therapy which Acupuncturists use to treat a myriad of conditions, like colds and flu, upper respiratory infections, and problems of the internal organs. Recently, cupping has received attention for its use to relieve muscular pain, bone pain and spasms, particularly on the back and shoulders. Cupping therapy stimulates micro blood circulation to the local area where it is used.
Cupping disperses and moves Qi and Blood by exerting suction and pressure on the prescribed area. Cupping is primarily used when the Qi is inhibited at certain points, or when Qi stagnation needs to be drawn to the surface of the body from deep within. For instance, cupping can be used to pull out such conditions as “Wind-Cold,” which in Eastern Asian Medicine is believed to be a pathogenic factor outside the body, which can affect the Lung organ. In this manner it can treat cough, lung congestion, and tightness in the chest.
To create a vacuum seal on the skin, a flame from a burning cotton ball (held with forceps) is placed in an upside-down cup. When the oxygen in the cup is exhausted, the cotton ball is quickly removed and the glass cup is placed directly on to the skin, where it is held in place by a strong suction. Often, the skin inside the cup visibly rises with the suction. There are also cups available that use manual hand pumping instead of the traditional burning type to create the suction. Cupping is generally considered a painless procedure, and many patients enjoy the technique, and find it deeply relaxing.
Often several cups, in varying sizes, are used to cover the treated area thoroughly. Cups may be left for several minutes, or removed quickly and placed elsewhere. Moving the cups across muscular tissue may also be performed. In this case, oil or lotion is first applied to the skin, in order to allow the cups to glide easily.
When cups are used to treat colds or flu, patients are advised to wrap up in blankets to stay warm after the treatment. Acupuncturists may also prescribe herbal remedies, dietary changes, and other health recommendations, to enhance the treatment.
Cupping causes blood to be drawn to the surface of the skin. Red marks, slight swelling, and circular bruising ranging from faint to dark can appear. These marks typically fade within a few hours to a few days.
Gua Sha is an ancient practice of Chinese Medicine in which the surface of the skin is lubricated and then lightly scraped with a smooth ceramic tool. From the perspective of Chinese medicine, it functions to alleviate pain by unblocking the flow of congested Qi and Blood in the meridians. From the Western medical perspective, Gua Sha activates the lymphatic system, which is an important way for the body to clean out toxins that have accumulated. It also increases microcirculation and thereby supplies the area with fresh nutrients and oxygen to promote healing, triggers the release of the body’s natural pain-relieving opiods, and at the same time stimluates the nervous system to create a relaxing sensation.
Herbal medicine a major treatment method used in Eastern Asian Medicine. Herbal preparations are most often taken internally, though there are some that are used externally in poultices, washes and liniments. The Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia includes hundreds of substances from the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms that have medicinal effects. Each herb has unique properties such as temperature (cooling, warming or neutral), flavor (sour, bitter, acrid, sweet or bland), and action (lifting, sinking or harmonizing) and exerts its unique effects on specific meridians and internal organs. There are categories of herbs which have similar properties much as there are classes of drugs in Western medicine which have similar functions.
There are many differences between Western drugs and Chinese herbs
that are important to understand, however. Drugs are highly refined, concentrated chemical substances that are often synthesized in laboratories (though some are highly refined plant or animal substances) and usually have a very narrowly focused effect aimed at alleviating a particular symptom. They tend to be quite strong and quick in their actions and may have significant side effects associated with their use which might require the use of additional drugs to control.
Chinese herbs, on the other hand, are generally raw substances found in the natural world. Though there are a few herbs that have the potential to be toxic if misused, overall, herbs are generally much milder, gentler, and slower acting than drugs and have few side effects. Many foods are even considered to be “herbs” in Eastern Asian Medicine. Sometimes people turn to herbal medicine because they cannot tolerate the side effects of certain prescription drugs, and may find that the use of herbs under the guidance of a knowledgeable licensed practitioner can even decrease or eliminate the need for certain prescription drugs. However, your primary care provider should always be consulted before altering the dosage of, or discontinuing the use of, a prescription drug, to ensure that this is safe.
Chinese herbs are nearly always prescribed in formulas rather than singly. A formula typically contains from three to fifteen herbs. These formulas are designed to address multiple symptoms and patterns of disharmony at the same time. The combination of herbs used in each formula is chosen very carefully and is specifically tailored to match both the unique combination of symptoms you are experiencing and your underlying constitutional picture.
Usually, a formula will have several different types of ingredients in it. There is always at least one “chief” herb which is aimed at treating the major symptom or pattern of disease. Additionally, there may be one or more “assistant” herbs that reinforce the actions of the chief herb, deal with secondary symptoms or patterns of disease, or eliminate potential side effects of other herbs in the formula. There is also often a “guiding” herb in the formula that serves either to focus the effects of the formula on certain meridians or areas of the body, or to harmonize and integrate the actions of other herbs in the formula.
There are several different ways that formulas can be given to patients. You may be given raw herbs to take home and boil into a tea to drink, or to use as a topical poultice, wash or douche. Granules are a powdered form of the herbs which can be simply reconstituted with water or other liquid to drink, or put in foods such as applesauce or yogurt to eat. Both decoctions and granules are advantageous in that the practitioner can choose the specific herbs to be included in the formula based on your individual symptom and constitutional picture. There are also pill forms of various classical herbal formulas (often called “patent” medicines) that many patients find very effective and convenient to take. Most of the classical Chinese herbal formulas have been used for thousands of years under careful observation with few, if any, significant side effects noted, when prescribed by a well-trained, knowledgeable and experienced practitioner.
When prescribing an herbal formula or patent medicine, the practitioner pays careful attention to any other prescription drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking, and known allergies, so as to avoid drug-herb interactions or other side effects. The provider will also take into account your overall constitution, level of health, lifestyle, and temperament in choosing which preparation will likely provide the best result for you. Because herbs generally take longer than prescription drugs to have the desired effect, you may take your herbal preparations for several weeks or months. And, because Eastern Asian Medicine strives to treat the underlying cause of the problem, this length of time may be required in order to effectively address the contributing factors of the disharmony.
The manufacturers of the herbal products we sell in our pharmacy are carefully chosen for their attention to strict quality control standards, and regular monitoring to avoid contamination, adulteration or substitution of incorrect plant species, and are recognized as leaders in the field. Several combine the latest biochemical research with traditional formula actions to provide the best possible synthesis of ancient traditional knowledge with modern scientific research.
Please note: Herbal preparations may not be purchased from our pharmacy without your first consulting with one of our independent practitioners.
Moxibustion (also called “Moxa”) is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of a dried herb, Mugwort, to promote healing. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years. In fact, the Chinese character for “Acupuncture” when translated literally means “Acupuncture-Moxibustion.” The purpose of Moxibustion is to balance disharmonies, stimulate the flow of Qi, and maintain and promote optimal health.
There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. In the United States, direct moxibustion is occasionally used, though indirect moxibustion is more common. With indirect moxibustion, an acupuncturist lights the moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, and holds it close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area turns light red, and a pleasant warming sensation is felt by the patient.
What is Moxibustion used for?
Moxibustion therapy is used for people who have a cold or stagnant condition as diagnosed in Eastern Asian Medicine. The burning of moxa is used to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of Qi and blood.
In Western medicine, moxibustion has been successfully used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women with breech presentation babies, and who received moxibustion at a specific point on the Bladder meridian, had their babies rotate to the normal position.
Other studies have shown that moxibustion increases the movement of the fetus in pregnant women, and may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps when used in conjunction with traditional acupuncture.
Why do acupuncturists use mugwort?
Mugwort, also known as Artemisia vulgaris, or “Ai Ye” in Chinese, has a long history of use in folk medicine. Research has shown that it acts as an agent that increases blood circulation to the pelvic area and uterus and stimulates menstruation. This could explain its use in treating breech births and menstrual cramps. This herb is also unique in the Pharmacopeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in that it is the only herb said to go to all twelve major acupuncture meridians or channels.
Are there any precautions I should be aware of?
Although moxibustion has been safely used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, it is not for everyone. Because it is used specifically for patients suffering from cold or stagnant constitutions, it should not be used on anyone diagnosed with pronounced heat symptoms. Burning moxa also produces a pungent odor, and some smoke. Patients with respiratory problems may request that their practitioner use smokeless moxa sticks as an alternative.
Who can perform Moxibustion?
Moxibustion is usually taught as part of a qualified acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine degree program. Although there are no licensing or accreditation requirements associated with the practice of moxibustion, in the United States, a practitioner must have an acupuncture license to be allowed to perform moxibustion. In Oregon, moxibustion is specifically included in the scope of practice for Licensed Acupuncturists, according to state statute.
Massage Therapy: Shiatsu
Shiatsu is a general term used for various types of pressure therapy developed in Japan. Like acupressure, Shiatsu uses pressure at the acupuncture points to remove blockages and promote the proper flow of the body’s vital energy (called “Qi” by the Chinese, or “Ki” by the Japanese). In Shiatsu, however, the pressure is applied in a rhythmic manner, working along the meridian pathways, and the whole body is treated, rather than just a few specific treatment points as in acupressure. Also, in Shiatsu, the practitioner may use his or her palms, elbows, knees and feet to apply pressure in addition to using the fingers and thumbs. Parts of the patient’s body are also placed into “meridian stretches”, or positions which help to make the meridians more available to the practitioner for treatment.
Zen Shiatsu is a specific style of bodywork developed in the early 20th century by Shizuto Masunaga in Japan. In Zen Shiatsu, the practitioner strives to maintain a meditative state of mindfulness which he or she directs toward detecting the body’s response to treatment in each moment. Thus, this active, “real-time” response directs each subsequent step of the treatment rather than the practitioner choosing a theoretical set of points or meridians ahead of time. Zen Shiatsu is performed with the recipient lying on a futon on the floor, giving the practitioner the ability to apply pressure using his or her body weight to a depth of pressure comfortable to the patient. When receiving Shiatsu treatment, you remain fully clothed, as this modality does not require the use of lotions or oils.
From a western perspective, Shiatsu works by engaging the parasympathetic portion of the autonomic nervous system, which has the effect of calming the body and mind, decreasing the effects of stress, and strengthening the immune system. By helping to increase the circulation of blood and lymph, Shiatsu can also help to improve muscle tone, repair damaged tissues, and maintain healthy internal organ function. Regular, consistent Shiatsu treatment can be used as preventive health care or to treat symptoms such as back, neck and shoulder problems, nervousness and stress, insomnia, digestive problems and fatigue. Most people find Shiatsu treatment to be a very pleasant, deeply relaxing, and health-enhancing experience.