When we talk about becoming healthier with WholeHealth Wellness, we talk a lot about balance.
Balance is a somewhat nebulous term and is often called harmony. Our premise is that all human body processes are interrelated and they are in continual interaction with each other and with the environment. A state of balance or harmony with these interrelationships is what we call health. Disease is simply a pattern of disharmonies.
Symptoms and physical signs help the practitioner access what is out of balance and by helping to correct the imbalances assist the patient to heal. Imbalances can occur in many different forms, since we as humans are very complex and imbalances tend to be multi-factorial.
Any model or theory of health or disease is just a model and not what is actually there. It is a simplification so we can analyze and act. The old saying is that “the map is not the territory”. Still, maps are very useful symbolic representations and can help us find our way from here to there.
Chinese medicine has various models for how we look at the world and what can be out of balance. “Yin and Yang” is one of the most useful models. Yin and Yang originally denoted opposite sides of a mountain. In the morning, one side was in shade, the other in sunlight. Later in the day, the sides reversed. Yin and yang describe the continuous force of change and the intertwined nature of things; they symbolize balance and harmony in our perpetual interplay with our internal environments and our exterior environments. Yin and Yang relationships are more than just opposites: they support and require each other. The traditional, circular yin and yang symbol shows the interrelated nature of yin and yang, where each flows into the next and each has a component of the other within.
Examples of yin and yang pervade the universe and illustrate that one cannot exist without the other. Male and female, hot and cold, up and down, activity and rest, day and night, inside and outside, front and back….there is no end to the examples. One can think of the action of a wave at the ocean with its ebb and flow. More technically, think of the sine wave, where positive and negative polarities oscillate in rhythmic frequencies.
Some yin and yang examples:
Lower body Upper body
Inner body Outer body
Chronic diseases Acute diseases
Deficiency conditions Excess conditions
When yin or yang dominates, disharmony and disease result. Paying attention to yin and yang helps to assess balance and harmony, and also gives the practitioner insight into how to assist in restoring harmony.
We can go back to the Buddhist idea that attachment leads to suffering. When this natural flow of yin to yang and back is blocked in some way (attachment), disharmony results and suffering or disease occurs.
The acupuncture meridian system is another very useful model of looking for patterns of disharmony. Qi is the basic life energy or life force referred to in many traditions. It can be considered the sum of all your body’s electrical, chemical, magnetic, and subtle energies. Your body is nourished by, cleansed by, and dependent upon the flow of Qi. Normal flows of Qi (and its yin counterpart blood) are the basis of good health.
The acupuncture meridian system consists of fourteen major channels and numerous minor channels. These are interconnected and flow is normally continuous from one meridian to the next. When the flow is blocked for some reason is when problems occur. The meridian system provides a means for the body to balance itself between inner and outer, left and right, and up and down. Acupuncture points are like switches and can be used to regulate the flow of energy along the channels and to their associated organs.
A very useful model that I use often is called “Eight Principals” in Chinese Medicine. The eight principals are four yin-yang pairs of conditions: excess/deficient, inside/outside, hot/cold, and damp/dry. Chinese medicine uses these eight principles to access the location and nature of an illness. Once this is known, the treatment often becomes obvious: if the condition is too hot, cool it down; if the condition is too damp, dry it out.
Excess/deficient: these terms describe too much or too little of some component of nature, disease or the patient. Sudden illness comes from excess, chronic illness suggests deficiency. Symptoms of excess are usually stronger than those caused by deficiency. A severe sore throat suggests excess (viral and yang) while a persistently scratchy throat implies heat caused by a deficiency of coolness or moisture (yin).
Inside/Outside: Does the disharmony originate from outside (yang) or inside (yin)? Is it some exterior pathogenic factor such as airborne viruses, or a bacterial infection? Exterior factors can penetrate the body and become interior diseases if our defenses are not strong or if we have created an interior environment open to the pathogenic factor. However, some diseases are primarily interior creations and result from deficiency, emotions, or other forms of stagnation within the body.
Hot/Cold: Hot and cold pairings refer to more than just relative temperatures. A heat symptom could be something like hyperactivity or inability to rest and may not be reflected in body temperature. Heat suggests an oversupply of Qi or an inadequacy of the body’s cooling system. Cold suggests the opposite: under-stimulation, poor flow, Qi deficiency or weak metabolic function. Of course we can usually find examples of both present in the same person: some aspects or regions will be too hot and some too cold.
Damp/Dry: All life is dependent on moisture but too much is also not optimal. Excessive dampness inside the body gives pathogenic factors such as bacteria or fungi an opportunity to multiply. We see this excess moisture in the form of swollen tissue, water retention such as edema, or excess phlegm. Dryness is the opposite and demonstrates a scarcity of fluids. In dryness, there is not enough moisture to harmoniously sustain life; dryness can be both the cause and result of blood or yin deficiency. So when conditions are too dry, we try to help them become more damp; if too damp, we try to make them more dry.
Whatever the pattern of disharmony, our role as a practitioner is to help bring the body/mind back to harmony.
There are many other models within Chinese medicine: the five elements is a major one that I don’t often utilize. The twelve organs is a model that I do often use.
The point is that most models or maps have their uses. If the maps are accurate and are applied correctly, the patients find their way to better health. Ultimately that is how we judge the usefulness of any theory: does it help produce the results we want?