If you’re heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine, you’ve probably heard about it in relation to things like acupuncture. And while acupuncture is a key element to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is actually only one of the five pillars of healing within TCM. These pillars work in tandem with each other to help heal the mind, body, and soul.
Drinking a certain herbal tea, doing a certain exercise, and completing personalized acupuncture may all play key roles in a Traditional Chinese Medicine healing regimen. If you’ve been curious about healing outside of Western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine can be a great place to start. It has been tested through trial and error over thousands of years and many of its teachings have been proved with modern science. So whether you’re looking for a little healing or a deep dive into Traditional Chinese Medicine, we hope you find what you’re looking for here.
The 5 pillars of healing in Traditional Chinese Medicine are:
- Chinese Herbal Medicine
- Tui Na
- Qi Gong
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Before we dive into the five pillars of healing, let’s do a quick overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine itself. According to TCM practitioners, being in a state of health is all about having a strong and balanced Qi within your body. Qi is translated as “life force” and “vital energy” and is what makes us feel healthy and alive. Certain things can block our Qi within our bodies which can cause us to get unbalanced.
Your Qi is also intimately connected to the balance of Yin and Yang within your body. Yin and yang represent all opposite, but mutually interconnected forces in the world like light and dark, feminine and masculine, and rest and movement.
These same equal, yet opposite forces exist in our bodies. In terms of the human body, yin represents everything that is in the lower body and yang represents everything that is in the back and upper body. Good health is achieved by balancing your yin and yang and supporting your Qi.
Even though it is one the most commonly known aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture still has a veil of mystery hanging over it. A simple Google search of acupuncture reveals questions like “what is acupuncture good for?” “what does acupuncture feel like?” and “what is acupuncture supposed to do?”
To answer the first question, acupuncture is good for a lot of things. Acupuncture helps heal the body by stimulating specific points to re-balance your Qi. According to TCM, your Qi flows through certain pathways known as “meridians.” By inserting very thin needles into the skin along these invisible energy pathways, TCM practitioners are able to treat certain ailments and relieve pain.
This vast system of meridian networks and how they work is a complex subject that takes years of study, but their primary purpose is to distribute Qi throughout your body. If this distribution is disrupted because of stress, anxiety, or lack of sleep, good food, and exercise, acupuncture can help release any blockages.
In the western world, some doctors believe that acupuncture works by stimulating neurohormonal pathways which send signals to the brain to release hormones like beta-endorphins. But there is also a lot of anecdotal evidence sharing the benefits of acupuncture. (1)
If you’re curious about getting in on these benefits, but not the biggest fan of needles, you can also try acupressure (pictured above). Instead of needles, practitioners use their hands to stimulate the meridians. You can even try it yourself with this blog post on 5 self-acupressure points for less stress.
Moxibustion, otherwise known as “Moxa,” is a healing practice that works by burning rolled sticks of the herb Mugwort on or near the body’s meridians. Moxa is used to warm and penetrate the meridians and acupuncture points and enhance the effect of acupuncture treatment. The intention of moxa is to warm and invigorate the flow of Qi in the body and dispel certain pathogenic influences.
Most commonly, moxa is burned about an inch or two above the surface of the skin until the area becomes red and infused with warmth. Usually, patients report feeling a sudden flooding of warmth that moves along specific meridians. This is a positive result because it means that the Qi is flowing strongly through your body. This healing pillar can be used to treat a variety of ailments including arthritis, digestive disorders, and gynecological conditions.
One thing that is great about moxibustion is that, unlike acupuncture, which must be done by a trained practitioner, moxibustion can easily be done at home. Chinese medical practitioners often train their patients to use moxa on themselves in order to boost its healing effect between acupuncture sessions. Though, you might consider opening a window if you decide to do moxa at home because the herb does produce a good amount of smoke and a scent that some compare to marijuana.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine is debatably the most important pillar of Traditional Chinese Medicine. While all of the pillars go hand in hand, herbal remedies play a key role in healing specific ailments. 70% of our postnatal Qi comes from food, herbs, and flowers, which is why it’s so important. Over thousands of years, different herbs have been tried and tested for hundreds of different health issues. (2)
There are many different ways to get the healing benefits of Chinese herbs, but they are most commonly consumed as teas, tinctures, or herbal pills. Some commonly used herbs include astragalus, ginkgo biloba, red yeast rice, ginseng, gotu kola, cinnamon, and ginger.
Our organic herbal teas are all used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to heal certain aspects of the body. Rose tea is part of a particular herbal category that helps regulate and reinvigorate the Qi. Your Qi should be constantly moving throughout your body, so rose tea helps release any blockages that might arise due to stress or unhealthy habits. Rose teas are also used for relaxation and to alleviate digestive symptoms like fullness below the sternum, epigastric distention, low appetite, and gas. (3)
In general, chrysanthemum tea is utilized to promote circulation, cool the body, and preserve vitality. It can also be used to target specific issues and help calm the liver, improve acuity of sight, subdue inflammation, and expel toxic substances. While it is always best to talk to a Chinese medicine practitioner if you’re looking to target specific issues, adding healing teas into your regimen can do wonders for your health. We love enjoying chrysanthemum tea when we’re looking to feel a sense of balance and vitality.
If you’re wondering how one herb, like our chrysanthemum tea, can do so many different things, it is because how you use the herb can play into the outcome. All healing herbs can be uniquely combined with other herbs depending on your health to promote different outcomes.
There are four types of these herbal formulas and they’re known as:
- Ministerial: Ministerial herbs address the main pattern associated with the health issues.
- Deputy: Deputy herbs help the ministerial herb and work against coexisting conditions.
- Assistant: Assistant herbs are added in to negate any negative side effects from the ministerial and deputy herbs.
- Envoy: Envoy herbs help direct the healing towards the desired part of the body.
It’s likely you haven’t heard of tui na, but you’ve probably heard of cupping and gua sha, which are both forms of tui na. Tui na is a type of body work that helps balance your Qi. Tui means “to push” and na means “to grab or squeeze.” This grabbing and squeezing is described as more of a massage that is something between shiatsu and acupressure.
Similar to acupuncture, tui na is meant to unblock channels of Qi through the body that might’ve been blocked due to stress, negative habits or poor health. Unblocking these channels along the meridians helps to restore physiological and emotional balance. The tui na practitioner does this by using oscillating and pressure techniques that change in force and speed. This force and speed can change depending on if it is used a stronger deep tissue massage, which is more yang, or a more gentle, energetic treatment, which is more yin.
The eight basic techniques of tui na include:
- palpating (mo)
- rejoining (jie)
- opposing (duan)
- lifting (ti)
- pressing (an)
- kneading (mo)
- pushing (tui)
- holding (na)
Gua sha utilizes these same principles, but instead of using their hands their practitioner will use a tool. Gua sha also focused on scraping rather than pressing, kneading, or lifting. The tool can be something that is specifically made for gua sha, but animal bone, coins, and spoons can also be used.
Gua sha usually leaves behind a reddish rash that is painless. The rash is thought to mean that Qi and blood were not circulating properly, but is now released. Overall, gua sha helps to break up areas of stagnation, congestion and stasis, relax and release sinews, and ease pain.
Like gua sha, cupping helps move stagnant Qi by reinvigorating the body. This is done by applying cups made of glass, plastic, or rubber to the skin’s surface and removing the oxygen. This will leave marks on your skin that look like bruises, but they’re not painful and will slowly disappear. The main purpose of it is to bring blood flow to stagnant or injured areas. The darker the mark, the more stagnant your circulation has been in that area. From a western standpoint, cupping works by basically being a backwards deep-tissue massage that pulls an area of skin into a suction to decompress the muscles and connective tissue.
There are three main types of cupping: wet, fire, and dry. Wet cupping involves creating small incisions on the skin before applying the cup, which will pull a small amount of blood out during the cupping session. Fire cupping isn’t as scary as it sounds. The practitioner uses a little bit of fire—usually by setting a cotton ball on fire—and puts it over the cup to create a vacuum. Dry cupping just involves using plastic or rubber suction cups to apply negative pressure to the body.
Last, but not least we have qi gong. Qi gong literally means “energy work” and is a mind-body-spirit practice that can help improve one's mental and physical health through specific postures, movement, breath techniques, and focused intent. Traditional qi gong theory says that by focusing on a certain part of the body, feeling, emotion, or goal, we can send our Qi towards it.
During a qi gong session, beginners will learn certain postures that are coordinated with breathing exercises. Once the posture is perfected, practitioners can find their own subtle flow within those postures and breathing patterns. Qi gong helps clear the mind as is a type of moving meditation.
Qigong works by opening the flow of energy through the same meridians used in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. This flow helps improve our connection to our Qi and the Qi in the world around us.
The slow, gentle movement of qi gong helps to warm muscles and ligaments, tonify vital organs, and promote circulation. From the Western perspective, qi gong can help reduce high blood pressure and cool emotional frustration and mental stress. There are a ton of different forms of qi gong, but the most common categories include medical qi gong, which helps heal self and others, martial qi gong, for physical well-being, and spiritual qi gong for enlightenment and self-discovery. (4)
Whether you're utilizing the acupuncture pillar through at-home acupressure, the Chinese herbal medicine pillar through some healing whole flower teas, or utilizing the qi gong pillar with your favorite qi gong YouTube video, we hope you achieve your desired results.