TCM: Prove it to Yourself
Learning the Language of the System
The first step to learning Chinese medicine is learning the language used to describe health phenomenon. In fact, there may even be as much of a letting go of previous attachments to terms as there is an acquiring of new terms. Heart-Blood Deficiency doesn’t really mean that a patient is more prone to physical heart damage. Liver-Qi Stagnation doesn’t really mean that someone’s bile is backed up. And the Spleen, not the Stomach is more of an active participant in digesting food. Western ‘thought’ can definitely be brought back into the Chinese medicine system but not until the foundations have been deeply ingrained.
I have often said that learning Chinese medicine is like being thrown in the deep end of the pool, not knowing how to swim, and being yelled commands in a language you don’t understand. More accurately this is the proper way to learn anything worthwhile. I have seen this type of instruction in two personal ventures of mine: martial arts and Chinese medicine.
After 25 years of Kung-Fu I wholeheartedly switched to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I have never been a dabbler. I like to stay narrow and go deep. When I started to become very interested in grappling I knew that, due to time and cognitive restraints, I wouldn’t be able to perform well in striking and grappling at the same time. So, knowing my Kung-Fu would always be there, I gave up striking to learn another martial art. Being a beginner has been fun and frustrating. Again, I find myself thrown in the deep end of a pool. Things aren’t taught in a front-to-back manner.
Perhaps a person would ask, “Why not?? Why aren’t things taught in a cohesive front-to-back manner like all other subjects?” My answer would be, “If it were taught like that we’d end up with robots; not human beings with their own minds and attributes and free-spirited thinking!” Fragmented learning can be frustrating but it is a breeding ground for positive creativity.
Implementing the System
The second step to learning Chinese medicine is implementing the system, and practitioners immediately start to do so in clinic. Chinese medicine is learned backwards compared to how patients are seen in real-time in the clinic. College has us memorize all the signs and symptoms a patient could have if they presented with Kidney Qi Deficiency. Then we add on more with Kidney Yin Deficiency, Kidney Yang Deficiency and finally Kidney Essence Deficiency. When a patient describes their chief concerns we are more than prepared to implement what we’ve learned when they present with lower back pain, soreness in the knees and several hot flashes per week.
Over time, a practitioner then starts to think about all health phenomenon through the lens of Chinese medicine. Protecting the head, ears and neck from Wind and Cold becomes a top priority. Cold, raw, daily salads are reduced to only a couple times per week. Sugar, wheat and dairy are replaced with fruit, rice and lemon water. Implementing the system starts to become a lifestyle.
The same can be said for martial arts and lifting. After learning how to properly grip my opponent’s uniform I no longer put my jacket on the same way again. After learning how to properly weight lift I no longer start my lawn mower the same way either.
Trusting the System
The third step to learning Chinese medicine is trusting the system. Moreso, this is the stage of proving it to oneself. A practitioner sees a red tongue with red prickles, the patient describes their pain as very hot, and the pulse is rapid. LI11 is chosen for its ability to Clear Heat. This acupoint is used repeatedly over a course of 10 weekly treatments along with local, adjacent, distal and Influential acupoints. The patient’s pain improves over 90%.
Putting trust in the system ultimately turns into putting trust into oneself as a competent acupuncturist. The confidence gained by continually choosing LI11 for Heat increases every time a patient’s condition improves. It is very important to be consistent with acupoint selection for this process to occur and is something I stress with beginner and seasoned practitioners alike.
Chinese medicine can be a complicated and confusing medicine to learn. We can all simplify it by allowing it to prove itself day in and day out in the clinic. The results, or lack thereof, speak for themselves.