Traditional Chinese Medicine – The Medicine of Prevention

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

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I like to use the metaphor borrowed from the wonderful book Between Heaven and Earth that compares the body to a garden. Chinese medicine sees the body as a garden; something that needs to be tended and nurtured. You must water a garden, pull weeds and be mindful of pests for your garden to thrive. You must look at your garden every day so that you can detect subtle changes and make adjustments so that your garden will flourish.

In the West, the body is seen more as a machine. Parts break and must be fixed or replaced. It is a reductionist model, reducing the body to parts, that instead of working together are seen in isolation. We tend to wait until something “breaks” before we seek out a mechanic to do the needed repairs. This is one of the fundamental differences between the Eastern and Western models. In the West, we tend to wait until we are diagnosed with a disease before we seek out treatment, and in the Eastern model, we are learning to take care of ourselves on every level so that we can stay healthy so sickness never develops. Chinese medicine is a medicine of prevention.

Chinese Medicine - The Medicine of Prevention

The thing that many people don’t know about Chinese medicine is that it is not just going to have acupuncture for a headache, or when your allergies flare up – it teaches a way of life, or better yet – a way of LIVING. In acupuncture school, we are all taught the acupuncture points and their functions, but this is only a fraction of the overall picture. We are mostly looking at the entire body and its relationship to the environment. We are also looking at the body and its various parts in relation to each other. In the garden, if you tend it every day you see which plants are happy and which ones are struggling. You can see which ones need fertilizer and which ones are getting too much sun. It is the same with the body. If we are paying attention, we can feel the subtleties happening inside, if we have an excess liver, a deficient spleen or a disturbance in our shen. This kind of attunement is possible, and vital to being as healthy and balanced as we would all like to be. The thing is, that we have to learn how. And this is what Chinese medicine teaches.

This learning, or teaching – the sharing of information – is the job of the acupuncturist. That is the entire intention of Chinese Medicine Living and why I started it in the first place. It is not to hand over your health to someone else, it is to participate and empower everyone to achieve the healing, health, and happiness they want because they can have it.

How To Stay Healthy and Prevent Illness

The wonderful thing about the Chinese medicine approach to health is that it is all-encompassing. You are not just your body, you are so much more! You are spirit, emotions, energy, light – they are all part of you. You are also flesh, bones, muscles, and tendons, and all must be maintained so that you remain healthy. Every aspect is important, they all matter. The intake process of the acupuncturist or practitioner of Chinese medicine is comprehensive and extremely thorough. The theory is that we are trying to paint a picture of the entire organism because every part is connected to every other part, nothing exists in isolation. If you have a headache, we do not just look at the head, we must look at the entire body in all its aspects. The headache is only the symptom, we must determine the main cause. The other reason is that we are treating the root problem and not the symptoms. This is at the core of Chinese medical theory. Any illness that manifests is seen as a symptom of a deeper problem, and that is what we are trying to correct. People sometimes wonder, what if they have many symptoms? Do you treat them all at the same time or can you treat them all at once? This situation depends on the severity of the symptom. If it is acute and causing distress to the patient, then we treat the symptom immediately and then treat the root afterward. If the symptoms are causing discomfort, then both symptom and root would be treated at the same time, and if the symptoms are not causing distress, then the root would be treated, and once the root is discovered and corrected, the symptoms simply disappear. This is one of the reasons why Chinese medicine treatments are so effective. They are individualized treatments, seeking out the root of the problem and correcting it. It is not treating a headache, it is treating YOUR headache by figuring out why you are having them.

Why Emotions Matter


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A thorough exploration of the emotions is of vital importance for every patient. Sometimes someone will come in with problems they see as reasonably superficial and when I get to the part about the emotions they ask “what difference does that make? What could that possibly have to do with having stomachaches?” And this is my answer. It could have everything to do with your stomachaches and everything else that is going on with you. Emotions are a huge factor in our health and Chinese medicine takes them very seriously. They are as important to the practitioner of Chinese medicine as the virus you caught in a third world country or the chronic asthma you have been suffering with since you were a child. In my opinion, the emotions are responsible for a huge percentage of all the imbalances I see in clinic, and that is why they really matter.

Living in Harmony with Nature


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People used to live in complete harmony with the world around them. After the development of agriculture, we began to break this connection, and instead of living in harmony with nature, we began to dominate and control it. People were aware of subtle changes in weather and were deeply connected to animals, the seasons and the planet. The natural world governed behaviour; what people ate and when as well as eating what was in season. This is the way our bodies were designed and evolved over thousands of years, and how we could best stay healthy and ward off disease. Things like the weather, the ebb and flow of the seasons and the migration of animals were all a vital part of life, health, and survival.

In the present day, this connection has largely been severed. We suffer and die from diseases at an unprecedented rate. Many of us sit in front of computers for many hours a day and eat foods that are highly processed and full of unnatural chemicals. Going outside is something to “do” and not our natural state as it once was. Our relationship with nature and the planet is no longer harmonious and mutually beneficial, human beings live unnatural lives and get sick and die from many diseases that did not affect our ancestors.

Chinese medicine teaches a way of living, and that is to live as close to nature as possible. Eating with the seasons, rising early in the summer months and spending time outside being active, eating more cooling foods, and sleeping more and turning energies more inwards in the colder months, eating warming foods and conserving energies. It is simple, and it works well to keep us healthy so that disease doesn’t have a chance to develop.

Food as Medicine 

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Food is perhaps the most important aspect of good health. There is a lot of information and therefore confusion about how and what to eat. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there about foods, diets, what is harmful and what is beneficial, so it is understandable that nutrition is a huge and confusing subject for many. Chinese medicine uses food as medicine. Food is something you put into your body every day, so eating well is the best way to stay healthy and avoid disease.

There is a huge amount of evidence that diet alone can reverse many of the most devastating diseases in Western society – heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The trick is not to wait until you get a diagnosis of one of these diseases to take action. Eating well is something that you can do every day, at every meal. Chinese medicine sees foods as having a thermal nature, or temperature. Along with your constitution (you may be a hot or cold person), you can add or take away foods that will help keep you balanced. The key is to be constantly paying attention so that you can adjust accordingly. You must listen to your body.

Listen to Your Body

listen to your body : Chinese Medicine Living

This is perhaps the thing that, in my experience, we are missing the most. I fully believe that the body has an intelligence that far exceeds the one we attribute to our brains. Your body is a miracle. It is a miracle of healing. There are stories about this healing from all over the world. Your body wants to be healthy and heal from illness, you must only give it what it needs to do so. But you must listen. It is always trying to communicate with you. Take the example of pain. This is a communication tool used by the body to tell you that something is wrong. Instead of listening, doctors prescribe painkillers so that we don’t feel it. We don’t want to feel pain, but it is the body’s way of trying to get your attention. There are many, many ways that the body communicates, but we have largely lost the ability to listen. So many times I have patients who have been diagnosed with illnesses like MS, cancer, heart disease and are completely shocked when their doctors tell them they are sick. Once we speak and I learn of their history, be it medical, emotional or psychological it is usually obvious that there were signs, many, many signs before there was a diagnosis of one of these serious diseases.

We live in a world where we are overworked, underslept, in debt and stressed out. Many of us feel we do not have the luxury of listening to our bodies because we have to go to work so that the mortgage can be paid, or the children can go to school. We push ourselves harder and harder and our health – both physical and spiritual, suffers. It’s not easy. But it is WORTH it. Deep down we all have that sense, that gut feeling that we know when something is wrong. Something is out of balance. We need more sleep, we need to eat better. This is your body speaking to you. It wants you to be healthy and to live a long, happy life. It only wants you to listen.

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