Translating Chinese medicine into meaningful applications

translating chinese medicineAs practitioners of Chinese medicine, we are taught to be dynamic in our therapeutic techniques. We employ modalities like acupuncture and prescribe herbal formulas, which are pin-pointed to the root of our patients’ suffering.

However, what if someone asks us for advice as to how to treat an illness without these techniques in mind?

After all, the modalities of Chinese medicine are still foreign to a large percentage of the potential western patient population. The question then becomes: How can you translate the strategies and tools of Chinese medicine into meaningful applications for these curious, yet reluctant patients?

Over the past years, I adopted a role as a roaming practitioner of sorts who stuck to the dusty roads where access to health care is minimal.

My patient base has ranged from migratory workers to backcountry ruralites and many others who were hesitant to accept Chinese medicine because the modalities were too exotic for their taste.  Adding to the situation, my access to things like needles and Chinese herbs was limited.  So, I had to think on my toes. I focused my efforts on translating Chinese medicine into accessible tools and applications for my patients. To do this, I had to  understand what aspects of our medicine are most easily understood and applied by a patient base in areas of our fair country that know very little about the practices of Chinese medicine.

The result was a distillation of strategy, where I would forego the more alien techniques in favor of Chinese medicine’s philosophy of pattern recognition.

This seemed like a rational, step-by-step approach for timid patients who sought to understand some of the basics behind our medicine and, in some cases, this strategy was a gateway for further insightful discussion. I relied most heavily upon the Eight Principles of Chinese medicine and the Six Excesses, which I employed with my patients to introduce healthy change in their lives.

The Eight Principles are based upon four pairs of opposing patterns that are used to describe constitutions for our patients and, if taken a step further, to diagnose qualities of disease. The Six Excesses delineate the characteristics of patient constitution and diseased states even further into categories based upon conditions of wind, heat, cold, dampness, dryness, and summer heat. These concepts when combined, on a very basic scale, are rather useful for the type of patient who sits on the fence about Chinese medicine, yet wishes to learn more about the patterns of health and disease when applied to his or her own personal wellbeing.

Typically, in a relaxed setting, I would explain the contrasting and complementing elements of the tai ji symbol and how I perceive this pattern in my everyday life.

Once the tai ji is understood by the patient, I explain the remainder of the Eight Principles and Six Excesses over a course of time that seems reasonable and digestible; most importantly, I describe the concepts in terms that are appropriate, relatable, and applicable to each individual patient.

Perhaps it was my patient-base, as the individuals that I worked along side were tough as nails on the survival scale, so their motivation for optimum health was rather high. Or maybe it was because access to knowledgeable resources was tremendously lacking in these areas and helpful, ongoing perspectives gave them personal power over their health that was not experienced before. For whatever reason, after my patients learned and began to understand the Eight Principles and Six Excesses in their own lives, their health showed marked improvement.

After a short while, these patients not only understood the theory behind these time-tested concepts, but also actively sought out ways to maintain balance on their own accord.

The most common personal practices to create health for my patients were based on lifestyle and nutritional changes, and, as we all know, any form of change can be just as foreign as therapeutic applications from afar. To soften my patients’ personal transitions, I emphasized perseverance and at the same time patience, two qualities that seem to out-win any unreasonable desires to obtain health quickly with little effort. Moreover, I kept an open dialogue with them about how the Eight Principles and Six Excesses have affected their lives in relationship to their maintenance of health.

After a while, their minds began to open to new ideas and concepts, flexibility entered their daily routines, and items like acupuncture needles and Chinese herbal formulas seemed less strange.

My patients had, on their own accord, created their own personal and dynamic relationship to their environment and health. Trust me, it was (and still is) a refreshing feeling too see them flourish so readily given a useful perspective from the taproots of our medicine.

What can you learn from this?

The next time someone expresses an interest in Chinese medicine, yet at the same time appears reluctant to sit shotgun for your treatment strategy, take a moment to communicate the basics of pattern recognition. The results far-exceeded my expectations, and (somewhat selfishly) I am happy that my patients require less and less of my expertise to maintain personal health. This means that I have more time to help others, and that I also have more time for myself and my own pursuits of healthy living.

About Kimberly Brown

Upon returning from my sabbatical, I enrolled into the Classical Chinese Medicine program offered at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM). I graduated four years later with a Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine—a degree that gives me a solid sense of compassion and a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic nature of health, pathology, and other dualistic patterns of thought. Learn more about Kimberly.

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