Traditional Chinese Medicine - Explained

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Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM is an ancient system of health and wellness that’s been used in China for thousands of years. Western medicine focuses mainly on treating disease, but TCM looks at your entire well-being.

Is it safe to try and will it work? With a little background on how it’s used, you can make more informed choices to improve your health.. 

What’s the Idea Behind TCM?

Western medicine tends to view the body a lot like a car. It has different systems that need the right inputs and outputs. It’s very concrete and logical. TCM, on the other hand, doesn’t focus on science and medicine. Instead, it’s based on balance, harmony, and energy.


There are two central ideas behind TCM:

  1. Qi: This is also called life energy or vital energy. The belief is that it runs throughout your body. It’s always on the move and constantly changes. TCM treatments often focus on ways to promote and maintain the flow of qi.

  2. Yin and Yang: These are opposites that describe the qualities of qi. But are they truely opposites?

Yin: night , dark, cold, feminine, negative

Yang: day, light, warm , positive, male

The belief is that everything in life has a little bit of its opposite, too, and balance is the key. For example, a drug from your doctor might heal disease, but will be dangerous if you take too much of it.

According to TCM, these ideas play out in our bodies. When you balance the yin and yang of Qi, you feel healthy and well. If they’re out of whack, you feel sick. TCM aims to create harmony and a healthy flow of qi.

What Kind of Practices Does TCM Use?


There are several, which include:

  • Acupuncture: very fine needles placed gently in the skin

  • Acupressure: using the same locations as for Acupuncture, Acupressure can be done as a self-care technique, or can be delivered by a qualified Massage Therapist or Certified Reflexologist. 

  • Cupping: heated cups that create suction on your skin

  • Herbs: teas, powders, and capsules made mostly from plants

  • Meditation: a way to sit quietly and calm your mind

  • Moxibustion: dried herbs burned near the skin

  • Tai chi: exercise with slow movements and focus on the breath

For centuries the ancient wisdom keepers and healers in several traditions had a keen understanding of the energetic body. The healing traditions from China, India, Japan and Tibet, as well as other countries all spoke of energy channels, meridians or nadis along which the vital energy flowed.

Life was considered to be a bio-electrical and vibrational energy phenomenon and so health revolved around balancing energy through various means. Life existed because of life force and energy running through and animating the body, ensuring we can move, breathe, digest food, think and even feel.

Energy Channels

This vital life force or chi, is composed of two kinds of forces, yin and yang, and flows along a sophisticated network of energy pathways, or highways, circuiting the body. Over 2000 years ago ancient cultures knew of the existence of these energy channels. They were called ‘sen’ in Thailand, ‘nadis’ in India, ‘meridians’, ‘channels’ or ‘vessels’ in China and Japan, and ‘channels’ in Tibet.


In India, where many eastern healing arts developed, there were said to be 72 000 nadis or energy pathways. Disease is believed to be a blockage in the energy flow of these channels. A range of healing traditions, including acupuncture, acupressure, massage and yoga, are founded on the principle of the existence of energy channels or pathways, known as meridians, or nadis, running around the body in an expansive network.

While it may seem a little airy fairy to some to consider the energy body while we have flesh and bone, at source we are an energy field, embedded into another energy field. Our bodies are electromagnetic in nature and science has measured these frequencies with advanced machines, like EKG’s and MRI scanning, for many years. Numerous studies demonstrate these energy pathways and points conduct electricity even when needles aren’t used. And the massage technique of Shiatsu has been found to stimulate the same energetic effects. Similarly, Qigong,Tai Chi and the postures of yoga, have been found to increase electrical conductance at acupoints, yet science never believed in the existence of meridians until now.

Scientific Research

Recently scientists at Seoul National University confirmed the existence of meridians, which they refer to as the “primo-vascular system.” They say that this system is a crucial part of the cardiovascular system.

Previously, North Korean scientist Kim Bong-Han proposed that he had found meridians in the early 1960’s.  Dr. Kim Bong-Han showed over 50 years ago that new tubular structures exist inside and outside of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, as well as on the surface of internal organs and under the skin. He believed they were the traditional meridian lines. The meridians were called Bonghan ducts or channels, after his research, but now the existence of this system in various organs has been corroborated by further research.

There may be a link between the meridians and energy and information relayed by DNA.

The Korean scientists studying Asian medicine with biophysical methods injected a special staining dye which coloured the meridians. By injecting the dye onto acupuncture points, they were able to see thin lines. These did not show up at non-acupuncture point sites where there are no meridians. The researchers discovered that the meridian lines are not confined to the skin, but are in fact a concrete duct system through which liquid flows, and that this liquid aggregates to form stem cells.

Previously, scientists used a combination of imaging techniques and CT scans to observe concentrated points of microvascular structures that clearly correspond to the map of acupuncture points created by Chinese energy practitioners in ancient times. In a study published in the Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena, researchers used contrast CT imaging with radiation on both non-acupuncture points and acupuncture points. The CT scans revealed clear distinctions between the non-acupuncture point and acupuncture point anatomical structures.

The Meridian System

There are 12 primary paired meridians and two single mid meridians, six yang and six yin. The yang meridians run down the body and the yin meridians flow up the body.


Each meridian:

  • is also related to an element.

  • is most active at a certain time of the day or night

  • is influenced by an element, such as: air, earth, fire, metal, water and wood or a season.

Each of the 12 Meridians have specific jobs in the body:

  1. The Heart Meridian is like the king or queen, the ruler of the kingdom and as such, holds the space for the other officials to do their job.  As with any government if it is weak the whole kingdom feels insecure and on shaky ground. For us this may feel like anxiety, as nothing feels safe or secure.

  2. The Heart Protector, (or Pericardium Meridian) is like a soldier that stands in front of the King or Queen.  It protects us from shock and hurt.  When the Heart Protector is shaky things easily affect our heart and hurt us easily.  Anxiety, fear of people but also our ability to love and let people in come from the Heart Protector.

  3. The Small Intestine is the sorter of pure from impure.  Whether that is from food, sound around us or the nightly news; it sorts out what we need to take in, and helps us not be in a muddle.  

  4. The Kidney Meridian is the centre of our will and determination.  This part of us is like water; when roused nothing can get in our way, when quite - it can still erode a mighty mountain.  When the Kidney is out of balance - we may not have the will to do anything.

  5. The Bladder Meridian, or (Urinary Bladder) is where our vital energy is stored for times of need. This is our ability to hold on to ideas, to stay with things and  to retain vital chi itself.  If we are tired, it is good to look at the Bladder Meridian.

  6. The Triple Heater, (or Endocrine Meridian) maintains and regulates the temperature of the body as well as the person's emotional temperature. It affects whether a person blows hot and cold and their ability to give.

  7. The Liver Meridian is the meridian of planning and action.  It is like the general of the army, it plans what needs to be done to move forward and does it !  If we have problems getting things done or procrastinate with our decisions this can come from the Liver Meridian.

  8. The Lung Meridian is the receiver of pure Chi.  It is our connection to the heavens and all that is spiritual. This meridian helps us to see and appreciate the quality in ourselves, others and the outside world - it is the source of true self esteem.

  9. The Large Intestine is in charge of the waste system for the body, mind and emotional self.  The Large Intestine makes sure we have space for the new by getting rid of the old. This meridian affects our ability to let go of what is no longer needed in all aspects of our life.

  10. The Gall Bladder is the meridian of judgment and vision.  It helps us to see the future, to have flexibility and hope. If we are having trouble with seeing things or if we are rigid in our attitudes this can come from the Gall Bladder. With no vision for the future - there is no hope.

  11. The Spleen Meridian is the Official of Transportation and Distribution  The spleen transforms food and drink, extracting Qi and essences which are then distributed to the other officials. It houses our "thought" -  it  influences our capacity for thinking,
    concentrating, memorizing and even worrying.


  12. The Stomach Meridian our ability to take things in.  This may be the pure Qi of food or our ability to absorb information or even to receive love .  It affects our ability to nurture ourselves, others and our ability to feel full and satisfied.

The nature of meridians, in their elemental structure, and as vessels for the life force, show the intricacy and profound connection of our body at a cellular level, to the universe.


We are intimately connected by the elements, energetic structure and flow of energy, to all life, at a cellular, physical level. Our earth is also said to have energetic pathways or ley lines, akin to meridians.

How are meridians related to health?

Our bodies need balance. A balanced flow or energy, not too much or too little, is conducive to good health. This is the same in the way we live our lives. Balance is paramount. Just enough food, water and a healthy balanced lifestyle. As the Buddha said: “middle way” or moderation in all things.

We can see this harmony and balance in life, as the balance between the energies of yin and yang – or more simplistically, masculine and feminine – the two opposing and catalyzing energies of the universe.

In our bodies we need balance, not too much or too little. Our health will be optimized if there is harmony and balance between these two forces in the body. If the balance is disturbed, and the flow of one of these forces becomes greater than the other then illness arises. These forces or energies flow through very definite channels in the body, or meridians, and these are the body’s healing energy pathways.

What about Qi, (Chee)?

Qi is made up of two kinds of

forces, yin and yang.  When the
flow of energy is blocked, it
causes low energy and illness.
Practices like yoga and meditation
work on these subtle energy channels,
supporting the flow of energy through
the body.