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Nourishing life

Emotions and Traditional Chinese Medicine

There is a popular tale from the East that has been spread mouth to mouth for thousands of years which says that beyond some mountains there was a small town. All the people living there were blind.
One day, a circus went through this town announcing its top attraction over a loudspeaker: an elephant. Nobody knew what an elephant was, so all of them decided to send the six wisest men in that community to see the elephant and then let the others know about it.
The wise men went to the circus, surrounded the elephant and extended their hands to know what it was about while they touched it to gather information. One of them touched a tusk from top to bottom and said: “Oh! The elephant is like a spear”. Another, touching a side of the animal objected: “No!... It´s like a wall”. A third wise man touched a leg and hugging it said that “it is like a tree, like a big palm tree”. The fourth wise man, feeling the trunk, replied: “Certainly not, the elephant is like a snake”. The fifth wise man, exploring the ear, said: “No, no, no... it's like a fan”. Meanwhile, the remaining wise man, while passing his fingers along the tail, came to the conclusion that “undoubtedly... the elephant is like a rope with a brush on the tip”.

It seems to be that it is not easy to know something or somebody completely, to see it as a whole, to recognize their essence. Despite this and from very old times, mankind searches and opens ways of knowledge from the art, the science, the nature, the technology... Some ways meet, some others bifurcate with no return.

Both Eastern and Western medicines are not alien to this. Traditionally both have different ways to approach health and disease related to different views of the world and life. Where is the emphasis put by each of them?

Puzzle or fabric?

Historically, Western medicine focused its attention, its knowledge and its practices on diseases and classified them with the purpose of curing them, thus evolving towards specialization.

In the last 50 years, the West has had a great technological development in different medical specialties But we have also to admit that in many occasions and due to different reasons the general clinical view has been diminished.
From another point of view, Eastern medicine focused its view, its knowledge and its practices on the people who get ill and on the factors causing diseases, with the aim of helping the own organism itself, as a fabric, to put into operation its capability to restore the lost energy balance.

However, there are points of agreement between the Western medicine and the Eastern medicine , such as when the World Health Organization (WHO) published, in 1980, a list of more than 40 pathologies where the acupuncture treatment had been successful. Also, and still on a small scale, it is used in different countries as anesthesia and analgesia, both in surgical interventions and in the so called “pain-free” labors.
Adding therapeutic approaches for the well being, the prevention and the general health of the human beings is the integrative task and the great challenge for this almost newborn XXIst Century.

Another view, other practices

The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in agreement with its philosophical background -the Taoism- is concerned with and in charge of the holistic care of health through diagnosis, treatment and the maintenance of the energy system’s harmony. In this medical system treatment and prevention go hand in hand. But the first step is diagnosis, which is based on:

  • Monitoring the skin and the tongue color, the eyes and the expression.
  • Listening and smelling: Listening the tone of voice, the breathing, the type of cough and distinguishing the type of secretion smells (breath and perspiration).
  • Asking the reason for the appointment, the habits, likes, and troublesome situations. Listening to the account, the pitch of voice, what the person says and doesn't say.
  • Palpating: take the pulse and palpate the abdomen.

The diagnosis in the Traditional Chinese Medicine precisely and subtlety distinguishes the different states of the organism. Its treatments propose a particular process, in accordance with each person and not with the disease. Its procedures are centered on the regulation of the vital energy flow through the stimulation of certain points that act not only by themselves but also in association, resembling “circuits”, mobilizing the normal flow of energy and re-establishing the structure and the vital balance.

The therapeutic tools that the professionals decide to use -needles (acupuncture), heat (moxibustion) or Tui-Na (massages)- will be those considered appropriate by them in order to focus the reorganization of the “energy imbalance” bearing in mind the physical constitution, age and patient's clinical profile. The objective is to optimize the “healthy” resources the patients have, even when they are suffering from a disease. We could say that it is about “nourishing the healthy part” so that the organic answer be favorable in the evolution and improvement of health.

Medicine and Philosophy

A Taoist principle says that the energy concentration shapes everything. To be healthy, this energy called qi must flow in the human body without any obstacle and in harmony with all that surrounds it. The whole universe is coated with the Qi: it is the force activating every life expression. Each human being lives between Heaven and Earth and constitutes a miniature Universe in itself, a microcosm that is is related to the macrocosm. For that reason, it is said that “what is above is similar what is below and what is below is similar to what is above, for the same purpose”. In the human being, this energy flows through channels called meridians that are networks of energy circulation truly coordinated which nourish both the body organs and tissues as well as our mind and emotions. That is why the balanced distribution of the Qi in our body has deep effects on all the aspects of the well-being: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

Opposite and complementary

Chinese philosophy is expressed in the concept of opposite and complementary: ying and yang, the masculine and the feminine, the hard and the soft, the above and the below... But these polarities aren't steady. The opposites are in continuous movement as we can see in Nature: day becomes night and vice versa; Winter is followed by Spring; Spring is followed by Summer; Summer is followed by Autumn; which is then followed by Winter again... Each pole is opposite and complementary at the same time. One cannot exist without the other.

Following these principles, health and disease are seen as balances and unbalances of human energy which are intimately related to the energy of the Natural Cycles -the four seasons, day and night- and to the energy of the environment surrounding us, and that of the place and setting where we live.

It is very difficult to understand what is opposite and complementary for Western society. For Western medicine, health is opposed to disease. We talk about “fighting the disease” as if it were an enemy to whom war is declared. It is thought that disease is something that burst in and interrupts the healthy state and its causes always come from outside. For that reason, Western medicine tries to quickly dispose of disease attacking the symptom to make it disappear, frequently, without paying attention to the causes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine “prevention” is included since the patient's first interview, where the condition of his vital and essential energy and the ability of his organic response are also evaluated. If these turn out to be deficient –for example- it would be necessary to reinforce not only the organs but also the set of energy functions besides treating the reason for the consultation.

Emotions, those “internal devils”

Rage, joy, worry, sadness, fear: these emotions are usually called “internal devils”. Intimately linked to the “energy” state of organs and viscera, they are responsible for part of the alterations in the person’s energy system and affect them in all their dimensions: physical, mental and spiritual. For that reason, in the treatments not only the symptom that triggers the consultation is taken into account but also the cause, the energy origin of that symptomatic expression. For each emotion prevailing in excess there is an organ energetically damaged or vice versa. There are five movements, processes, transformations where everything related to creation is manifested in basic, interconnected and dynamic elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Traditional Chinese Medicine developed the “5-Element Theory” which classifies the diseases, symptoms and organic expressions according to these five basic elements of Nature correlated to the emotions, organs and viscera, seasons and environmental factors. For example, the element fire is correlated to joy, the heart and the small intestine, Summer and heat. Rage involves the liver and the vesicle, and Spring and wind are related to the wood element.

These five elements -wood, fire, earth, metal and water- are dynamically interrelated among themselves and may be excessive or deficient. Both situations produce alterations in the health-disease dynamics.


"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"

Ying and yang and The 5-Element theory together with the natural cycles are the beginning and the end of everything, the origin of life and death. Living in harmony with these means to prevent disease, which in Chinese medicine is known as "to follow the Path of nourishing life".

Dr. Cecilia Y. Cáceres