A Brief History of Chinese Medicine

According to ancient Chinese texts, acupuncture has existed for over 4000 years, making it the oldest organized system of medicine in the world. Some evidence suggests that it may be even older. One example of this evidence, are tattoo marks found on the mummified ‘Ice Man’ who died in about 3300 BC in the Italian Alps and whose body was discovered when an alpine glacier melted. These tattoos correlate with known acupuncture points and suggest that a form of stimulatory treatment similar to acupuncture may have evolved independently of China.

The oldest known writing on the theory of Chinese medicine is the Nei Ching, which is also known as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. This text dates to around 200 B.C. and consists of a dialogue between the yellow emperor and a Taoist physician. The text assumes that the reader will have already been familiar with acupuncture points and theory, which indicates that acupuncture had been widely practiced long before the text was written.

History is unclear on how the system of points was discovered, but once it was widely known, practitioners used various tools to access the points. Flint, pieces of stone, bamboo and sharpened animal bones were all used early on. Later, various types of metals such as iron, bronze, silver and even gold were used.  Today most needles are made of stainless steel that are one time use by law, but in China they have re-usable needles that are sterilized.  State sponsored schools have existed in China since AD 443 and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), including acupuncture and herbal medicine, is the main form of medical care still used in China today. 

What is Qi?

One of the most fundamental ideas of Chinese medicine, is that the proper functioning of the body and mind are dependent on the flow of bodily energy or life force, which is known as Qi (pronounced “Chee”). Qi is the universal energy that surrounds and permeates everything, including all living beings. Qi exists both internally inside of the body, and externally in the environment. It is in a constant state of flux between living beings and the outside world. External Qi is found in the air and in food and is transformed into internal Qi when we breathe or eat. A third type of Qi also exists, and is called protective Qi. Protective Qi correlates to the western idea of the immune system, and if it is weak it is easier for harmful external Qi to penetrate the body. Poor diet and stress can weaken protective Qi as well as blockages of Qi in the meridians of the body. 

Yin and Yang

The concept of yin yang is the driving philosophy behind the origins of Chinese medicine.  Yin yang refers to all states of being. The concept of yin yang refers to complementary opposites that interact with each other within a greater whole helping to explain the natural phenomena that exists all around us. Like day and night, dark and light one cannot exist or be defined without the other. In Chinese medicine, everything in the body has a yin or yang quality and must be in balance in order to maintain health. Many medical problems can result from an imbalance of yin and yang. An imbalance occurs when yin and yang forces are deficient or excessive and a disruption of the balance will produce an abnormality in the flow of Qi. When yin and yang are in harmony, the flow of Qi will return to normal and health is restored.

Reed Acupuncture

Kirsti Reed, DOM, LLC
Doctor of Oriental Medicine

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drkirsti@reedacupuncture.com

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