The Lunar Review

The Eight Branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

 The TCM Tree of Life flourishes its wisdom through eight, well-defined branches. Each branch reveals a unique perspective on human health, psychology and spirituality. Each reveals what action is necessary to thrive in this life.

     If such intelligence is acted upon, there is no opportunity for disease and illness to manifest. Interestingly, and perhaps surprising to learn, resorting to acupuncture and herbal medicine for the treatment of disease is a last resort; a last ditch effort to heal the body. It is when all the other pieces of advice are not heeded, that trouble walks in, and the most invasive, lowest forms of healing become necessary.

     This article outlines the blueprint for a thriving, hearty life. Each branch of knowledge will be described just as the ancients carefully crafted them, based on centuries of accumulated knowledge. 

First Branch: Meditation

     Meditation is the first step to healing thyself, which is synonymous with knowing thyself. It is important to realize the mind is inside the body; the two are not separate. While our bodies are finite, our minds are infinite. 

     Meditation can lead to deep introspection, and should not be used as a tool to escape reality, or ignore physical needs. The point isn’t to stop the constant mental chatter within, but to reach a point where it does not interfere with your natural rhythm. 

     Closing your eyes, sitting quietly, or cutting yourself off from outside influences can bring you into a state of thoughtless awareness. Try not to attach to, or expand on, any thoughts, or go the opposite route. Expand and ruminate greatly on every little thought roaming around your brain. Either way, a process of mental cleansing ensues.

     Observe the way your mind works. Do you think in complete sentences, in the sound of your own voice? Are mental images a part of your thought processes? Do you receive information from all your senses? Do you find feelings, impressions and less tangible sources of information valuable? Are you aware of how you process the first impressions you receive from someone or something new?

     How much does the outside world influence you? Are your most basic tenets in life from an outside source or did they develop from within? Can you tell the difference between your true desires and those imposed on you by family and society? Do you think you ever truly had an original thought or experience?

     Meditation allows you to experience a different facet of reality. One way to take a break from your usual thought patterns, is to concentrate on your in and out breaths.

Breathing is a special action that does not create feelings of craving or aversion. For example, when inhaling, there is no struggle or desire to immediately start exhaling. Respiration follows an automatic rhythm, one that does not, under normal circumstances, create a desire to interfere with the process. 

Breathing is also unique because it’s one of the biological patterns that is automatic when we’re unaware, and under our full control when conscious of it.

     Immediate physical benefits are entirely possible with a meditation practice. It is entirely within one’s power to lower blood pressure, calm a racing heart, or reduce anxiety. Sitting quietly, with the intent of doing so, can work wonders for body and mind. These effects can occur immediately, and become more stable, and long-lasting with a regular meditation process. 

     Becoming more self-aware is the goal. You can start to notice patterns within yourself. Your five senses are not limits, they are part of your arsenal of knowledge and protection. Being in meditation gives them a rest so they can regenerate, and become stronger.

     You may even reach a stage when you can feel where emotions reside in your body. This can help deepen your connection to feelings of love, joy and passion.

It can also be the first step to recognizing, and then releasing, negative emotions such as fear, shame and guilt. The locale of symptoms gives rise to metaphors which help you connect to the mental pattern at the root of the problem.

     For example, if you feel anxiety, tightness and tension in your solar plexus, you may think “I can not stomach a situation. I can’t even begin to digest what has occurred.” Your wounded center, the stomach organ, is clearly signaling to you that a particular harmful event literally interfered with your digestion.  Unless you were subjected to a physical assault, ingested poison or suffered from lack of food, the event most likely occurred on a psychological level, from a negative emotional experience.  

     The pain is mental first, and if not resolved in due time, transfers from the mental realm to become observable in the physical body. This explains an important mechanism  of dis-ease and why we feel unwell. It is important to note that not all symptoms indicate illness, often they are signs that the body is in a healing stage.

      Investigating your mind, and digging deep can determine psychological root causes of dis-ease and illness. Once revealed, they are ripe for healing. You don’t need to psychoanalyze the scenario, you just need to fully acknowledge that you sustained a wound from someone or something. 

     In the case of your stomach, you can put your hands over it and literally tell yourself that you can digest and assimilate the experience, and become wiser and stronger for it. You may need time in silence and contemplation to know the psychological cause of your symptoms. You may even need the help of an expert. A daily meditation practice expedites and supports this healing process. You will know you’ve hit gold when your symptoms disappear. 

    There are many different types of meditation. It’s not always a matter of sitting still with closed eyes; it can be quite the opposite. With eyes wide open you can stare at a candle flame, up at the clouds, or at a randomly chosen spot.

      Forget the still part if you find your energy does not like to be tamed in that manner. Walk consciously, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to keep attention focused on the movement and sensations of your body. Or go ahead and invent your own method, the one that is perfect for your physicality and temperament. 

Second Branch: Exercise

    This branch is much easier to understand. The type of exercise most prized and valued by the ancients involved that which engages the mind through concentration and complexity. 

     One example is qi-gong, an ancient form of exercise utilizing set rhythmic movements to enhance one’s vital life force. It coordinates the breath, mental concentration and natural physical rhythms into a beautiful, harmonious physical practice, resembling that of a slow dance. Various martial arts are other good examples of this exemplary form of mental and physical exercise. 

     Keeping fit and moving doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial. Most of us know how wonderful stretching exercises feel. This not only releases physical tension but also wakes up a sleepy mind. Walking, even in a leisurely relaxed fashion, gets the blood pumping and opens up the possibility of encountering new things to see, hear and smell.

     Weight-bearing exercise is the primary way to build muscle and increase bone density. Seeing visible differences requires a consistent effort. Massage can certainly help maintain your body’s physical integrity but it is no substitute for engaging your own energy to bulk up your bones and muscle tissue. 

     Vigorous movement increases the flow of fluids such as lymph, blood and cerebro-spinal fluid. This can be achieved through fast walking, running, dancing and manual labor. Another way to assist your fluid metabolism is by going into an upside-down pose. You can do a headstand, backbend or lie on the floor and put your legs upward against a wall to naturally let your body work against the force of gravity.

     Aerobic exercise involves a lot of huffing and puffing and raising the heart rate. This allows for a big increase in oxygen intake, which in turn invigorates the entire body. If things get intense, you can literally feel the oxygen burn within you as you breathe hard. After workouts like this, sleep comes easily and deeply. 

Third Branch: Food and Diet

     Food and diet includes more than just the food you ingest. It brings into question other issues regarding diet. You may ask yourself such questions as “Do I eat because I am hungry?” After you’ve hit your nutritional requirements for the day, what is it that compels you to add spoonfuls of dessert to your stomach, or indulge in extra helpings of dinner? Or do you do the opposite and restrict your food intake before feeling satiated?

     There are just as many ways to eat healthy as there are people on this planet. With the plethora of theories out there on diet, it is tempting to substitute your own personal wisdom for that of someone else’s. Even the most educated, researched theories on diet represent a small blip of research on the timeline of evolution. Your body is the result of countless generations before you, undergoing a slow process of evolution to bring you the biological make-up you’ve inherited. Which knowledge do you trust: relatively young theories on diet, or your own innate survival programming? You are a composite of all of your ancestors. The food that gave them energy, vitality, and enjoyment is the food that will serve you well. 

     What foods do you eat purely due to political or ideological reasons? If you persist in a diet that satisfies a political or ideological desire but doesn’t provide you with adequate nutrition, your body cannot compensate so your health will suffer. 

     One way to stay in tune with nature is to eat what the earth naturally provides in that season. In northern countries fruit is a summer indulgence, with harsh, long winters providing little opportunity for its growth. Eating as many fruits and berries as you can in the summer isn’t decadence, it’s just practical. The same idea holds true for wild seasonal herbs and vegetables. Consuming them in a timely fashion provides nutritional benefits needed at those times of year.

     Regular mealtimes can enhance your digestive function and provide structure for your day. In TCM, there is a saying: the spleen and stomach love regularity. Both these digestive organs are related to the earth element. Earth traits include stability, consistency, groundedness, and the capacity to nourish. A well-nourished body results from the winning combination of ingesting healthy food, eating at the right times, being in a relaxed state of mind while consuming, and knowing where your next meal will come from.

Fourth Branch: Cosmology

     This branch of the Tree of Life, a branch of astronomy, explores the nature, origin, expansion and ultimate fate of our Universe by observing celestial objects. Cosmology, as per the ancient Chinese, reaches a philosophical level in its noble pursuit to reveal the fundamental nature of reality. It aims to help us understand our place and purpose in the Universe. By knowing our physical place, we can divine our spiritual one. 

     There is a strong metaphysical component to Chinese cosmology, which puts humans at the center of the cosmos. Everything situated between heaven and earth is connected to heavenly Qi (energy). This vital connection supports the foundation of life, and brings profound meaning to the idiom: “As above, so below.”

     Pondering the secrets of the Universe can subject us to a veritable interrogation of ourselves. Does your perception of where and who you are change when you look up at the night sky to contemplate the stars? What is death? What is infinity? What is the Universe expanding into?

     As human beings, we draw breath, live, love, hate and die, prevailing as microcosms of Creation. We, along with our earthly environment, exist in holographic resonance with the cosmos. The same patterns resounding from the depths of outer space dwell within our bodies, and reside in our psyches. These patterns manifest in our sphere as observable, consistent, well-ordered cycles.   

    For example, understanding seasonal cycles allows for more accurate gauging of our own personal patterns. Ancient Chinese philosophers and physicians carefully observed the passage of the seasons in order to help people live long, healthy lives. As the earth changes its position in regard to the sun, it highlights different facets of the human character.  Each season brings its own unique prescription for behaviors, emotions and medical treatment.

     Winter brings death, stasis and contemplation. The kidneys require extra warmth and care at this time, as they are vulnerable to cold. Less daylight and more time in darkness encourages serious reflection. This is a season for honoring quiet and stillness. It’s best to engage in less activity, take less risks, all in the hopes of avoiding trauma. It is more difficult for wounds to heal in the dark of winter.

     This season is in stark contrast to the new growth and life emerging in spring, when energy levels and optimism rise. Often, in the early spring, exuberant, excitable but also feisty, and potentially aggressive behavior prevails. The liver requires attention, needing cleansing after a long winter’s hibernation. One function of the liver is to remove impurities from the blood. Detoxifying the liver through exercise, diet and emotionally embracing the spring, cleanses the blood. 

     Summer is the height and glory of the sun, bringing out a spirit of fun and adventure. The heart is joyful, ready for heartfelt connections and celebrations with others. It’s a time for enjoyment, but too much excitement and overexposure to the sun may overheat the body and mind. 

     Take time to meditate and find the yin (cold, feminine) within the yang (hot, masculine). In other words, seek the cool, quiet moments that exist within the hot summer. Exuberance for life and the warmth of love strengthen the heart now, physically and emotionally, and in essence, prepares the body and mind for the winter.

     Autumn ushers in the season of letting go, when things start to die. It’s time to release what no longer serves you. Outside, the leaves turn to stunning, warm colors of red, orange and yellow, flaunting the unique beauty of decay.

     When the leaves finally drop down, leaving tree limbs bare, it brings a certain clarity. Things that were obscured come into sharp focus. Allow anything superfluous to effortlessly fall away. The air feels sharper, more crisp. Keep breathing in nature’s bounty and the lungs will graciously release waste products and toxins on the outbreath. The body revels in regular, deep intakes of air, especially in times of duress.

     The large intestine also eliminates what is unnecessary. It receives the waste products from the small intestine, which need to be expelled as efficiently and quickly as possible. All things old, stale, and out of date, must leave the body. This includes thoughts, emotions, people and things which no longer have value. This pair of organs deserves special care as they are highly active, and most vulnerable, at this time of the year. 

     The seasons, all creatures, stars, planets and galaxies live and die by the same rules. In the words of Antoine Bechamp, a French scientist born in 1816: “Nothing is lost, nothing is created. All is transformed. Nothing is the prey of death. All is the prey of life.” Even the relatively recent philosophy from the West, adds support to the ideas of ancient Chinese cosmology. Through contemplating the cycles we experience here on Earth, we slowly decode the laws of the Universe.

     Poetry helps activate the imagination and deepen the appreciation for many difficult or abstract concepts. The Chinese philosopher Zhang Zai, born in 1020, presents an eloquent statement to illustrate the beauty of man in relation to the heavens: 

     “Heaven is my father and earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I, finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore that which fills the Universe I regard as my body and that which directs the Universe I consider my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.”

     Cosmologists in ancient China held no distinction between astrology and astronomy. Looking up into the heavens, recording the movements of celestial bodies, and looking for omens and portends in the sky, heavily influenced all facets of civilization. This includes art, design, science, war strategies, politics and mythology. Chinese astrology combines astronomical observations with philosophical, psychological and spiritual elements.

The Chinese Zodiac is unique in its design. It consists of 12 animals, complete with their own special characteristics, each being assigned to a year in a repeating 12 year cycle. Thus people born in the same year all share the traits of their particular zodiac animal. This zodiac system is set according to the lunar calendar so it relies on the movements of the moon. In its entirety, it is actually an intricate, highly developed system that brings the consciousness of heaven into a recognizable form on Earth.

Fifth Branch: Geomancy

     This art seeks to ‘divine the earth.’ The word geomancy traces its roots back to the Greek words geo (earth), and manteia (divination).  One way to divine the earth is through recognition of the subtle, and not-so-subtle vibrations generated from deep within the planet. Their potency manifests in nature and humans, begging for us to pick up the magnifying glass and have a closer look.

     Geomancy is based on the principle that humans exist as an intrinsic part of nature. The flow of lifeforce energy generated by the earth profoundly affects all terrestrial life. Abundance, joy, good luck, and beauty abound in the natural world. These gifts are most accessible when we harmonize with the rhythm of our planet.

     As the earth pulsates from deep within it exudes varying frequencies of energy. These frequencies impact people on many levels. Health, finances, relationships, and even people’s general sense of well-being, all respond to these terrestrial influences. Geomancy seeks to  connect the human consciousness with the consciousness of the earth. 

     Geomancy strength is based on aligning oneself with earth energies which may not be overtly palpable, but on careful observation are apparent.  Often these vibrations are so delicate they elude ordinary perception. 

     Some are like the wind, and can not be seen in and of themselves. Their presence is noticed only in relation to their effect on other things. For example, leaves whirling about on a breezy day announce the presence of an invisible force. 

     The most subtle of vibrations rely on our keen sense of observation, and even our psychic senses, in order to reveal themselves to us. This requires a certain amount of self-introspection and an ability to commune with the earth. On a spiritual level, examining ourselves in relation to our terrestrial home forces the question: Where is my place on earth? 

     A special book called The I-Ching, The Book of Changes, offers instruction on how to practice divination and master the mantic arts. Written around 1,000 BC, this manual is a highly revered oracle, full of wisdom, spiritual guidance. This is much more than simple fortune-telling however. Its true purpose is to engage the user’s intelligence, intuition and higher mind in the noble pursuit of knowledge.  

     The I-Ching advocates a method of divination that involves the tossing of coins or small sticks. Its wisdom lies in the correct interpretation of the seemingly random patterns these objects form when they land. They reveal the past, show the present, predict the future, and open up a new world of possibilities and perspectives. Although possible, in general it is wise not to expect explicit yes or no answers. 

     Feng shui is another ancient geomantic Chinese art, still in use today, and thriving. It helps people harmonize with their physical environment by offering instruction on the spatial organization inside homes, schools, offices, temples, buildings and gardens. This includes the placement of furniture, lighting, windows, and decorative pieces.

      Inanimate objects, as well as colors, influence the overall flow of energy. All features and objects work as a cohesive unit to maximize the spirit of the people living, working, or spending time within these structures. Good feng shui is believed to make one happier, healthier, wiser and luckier. 

     Luckily there are simple methods anyone can employ to reap the benefits of geomancy. You can look for omens in nature, cloud-gaze, and use easily accessible divination tools such as Tarot cards, runes and pendulums. You can even invent your own gadgets, and come up with your own methods. While some methods are traditional and time-tested, there is no substitute for the creativity of your own mind.

     Soaking up the rays of the sun, walking barefoot outdoors, or just enjoying the solitude of nature in your own way are all potent ways to quietly connect with the Earth. These things will help if you want to just ‘be.’ It’s a beautiful thing to resonate with terrestrial energy without the interference intellectual intentions can bring.  

     However, if you want to be more scientific in your search for the secrets of the Earth, try researching the Schumann Resonance, the heartbeat of the planet. If you prefer a more philosophical approach, try understanding the four directions from a higher perspective. North, South, East and West may never look the same again.  

     These are all things, methods and suggestions that can teach you to discern patterns. This is important because the same patterns that exist in the natural world exist within your body. By extension, that means your mind as well, since the body and mind are one inseparable unit. Geomancy lays bare the intelligence and profound beauty emitting from the heart of our planet which is ours to connect with.

Sixth Branch: Bodywork

     TCM includes a variety of specialized massage techniques, with evocative names such as kneading, pulling, tapping, rubbing and rolling, all of which are commonly used. These skillful maneuvers treat a variety of conditions, such as muscular pain, digestive troubles, headaches and mental tension. Manual manipulation of the body allows for better drainage of the lymphatic system, stimulation of the nervous system and improved blood and fluid circulation. 

     In addition to massage, two other therapies, cupping and gua sha, also achieve these results, but by another method. They both break up tiny toxic or necrotic blood vessels, resulting in a painless bruising of the skin using simple tools. In this way, toxins and the debris from the healing process harmlessly leave the body via the skin. This is also an effective way to detoxify the lungs and address respiratory issues.

     As lifeless, stagnant blood is broken down and taken away, a fresh healthy supply automatically mobilizes to replace the old one. Gua sha uses a small tool with a soft, rounded edge, resembling a shoe horn in appearance. It is maneuvered on the skin until the practitioner obtains the desired results. Cupping involves suctioning small cups, usually glass or plastic, onto the skin. Although the result looks like you just took a serious beating, the process is not painful, and can be pleasant.  

     It is also possible to self-massage in many cases. Using your best judgment, you can apply the proper force to the afflicted spot directly, or to the area surrounding it. For example, after a sprained or broken ankle, it is important to start moving the area as quickly as is safely possible. 

    Wiggling the toes and moving the foot helps break up blood stasis and let new blood invigorate the area. Gently massaging around the wounded area and other parts of the body connected to the injury encourages the healing process. Muscles benefit as well, since they atrophy quickly when they are not in use.

     Having an expert work on you whom you feel comfortable with is paramount because of the direct, physical contact. Transference of energy between patient and practitioner occurs in both directions. Practitioners work with an intent to heal their patient, and this intention adds value and improves the treatment.

      Interestingly, some practitioners must protect themselves from taking on negative energetic patterns, to prevent developing the same symptoms they are treating their patients for. This can be accomplished by saying a prayer of protection before commencing treatment, wearing copper bracelets during treatment, and cleansing the air with incense or by ringing bells after the treatment. 

      If you’re on your own, try tugging on your ears, massaging them all around, from front to back. The ears are a microcosm of the entire body so applying a healing touch to them is equivalent to a full body massage. The same applies to the hands and feet. 

Seventh Branch: Herbology

     The Materia Medica of Chinese Herbal Medicine is full of wondrous herbal healing material. Every herb listed has heart and soul, provoking physical and psychological reactions. In it, you will find what may initially sound like whimsical references as all herbs are associated with a particular taste and temperature. 

     The five tastes, or flavors are: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. Each flavor corresponds to an organ, and ingesting it sends direct aid there. The four temperatures are cold, cool, warm and hot. Cool herbs generally treat warm conditions. For example, mint gently brings down a mild fever and cools heat in the stomach to relieve indigestion.  

     Many herbs are high potency, and just as powerful as medical drugs. There is a misconception that because a substance is natural, it is automatically safe. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most pharmaceutical drugs derive their active ingredients from plants and organic matter.

     The average TCM formula uses at least five, but can go up to twenty or more, different kinds of herbs for complex formulas. Every carefully selected herb has a specific job. Some are used to guide the elixir to the correct area of the body, some address the main symptoms, while another group mitigates any negative effects from other herbs. They all work together, synergistically, as a multi-faceted unit. Together they are more potent than a single herb.

     There are many ways to utilize herbal medicine. In addition to ingesting herbal concoctions such as teas and tinctures, they can also be made into pastes and washes for external application.

     The compendium of Chinese herbs includes the less glamorous and mundane herbs such as cinnamon and ginger, but can get as exotic as deer antler or flying squirrel excrement. Ground up bones and minerals have their place, as does human placenta.

     Herbal medicine also treats psychological conditions. For example, some of the same herbs utilized for lung issues also address sadness. While a modest period of grief is normal in certain cases, like the death of a loved one, prolonged sadness damages lung tissue and can result in pathological symptoms. 

     Herbs won’t provide a magical cure for your mental pain but they can mitigate the physical damage from those extreme emotions. This in turn, helps ease your mentality back into a healthier state of being. A state of physical well-being increases your chances to feel mentally fit and spiritually whole. Vice versa, the reverse is true as well. It all depends on the patient’s perspective. You must start from where you are, so to speak.

Eighth Branch: Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the most invasive of the Eight Branches. It involves outside intervention (an acupuncturist) directly manipulating the Qi (energy) of another person. Such an intercession is mostly required due to the fact that the patient did not heed the wisdom contained in the other limbs of the TCM Eight Branches. The patient lived in a state of imbalance due to a denial of circumstances, a failure to recognize the problems, or because they simply did not know how to change things. This is when a practitioner of TCM should act as a Teacher, as well as a Healer. In ancient China, a doctor only got paid if his patients recovered and got well again. Ideally, every practitioner should embody this philosophy. When a patient is well, and can rely primarily on the Eight Branches to serve them, a practitioner has achieved spectacular success.

     Thousands of years ago in China, the ancients mapped out the multitudes of energetic pathways flowing and pulsing throughout our bodies. Known as meridians, or channels, these invisible trails connect throughout the entire body. It is when they function properly, smoothly, and without stagnation or blockages, that we experience good health.

      A well-placed acupuncture needle communicates with the intelligence of the body. Qi is given specific directions. For example, a needle placed directly over the stomach organ, in the belly, directs energy to invigorate that area, thereby helping to ease pain, or provide other supportive measures to that area. 

     A complete acupuncture treatment is like that of an herbal formula. The needles work like individual herbs, all with their own function, but working synergistically to produce the best possible outcome for the patient. All of a patient’s symptoms are taken into account.     

     In the case of stomach pain, additional information is required to determine where each needle is to go. If one patient feels fatigue and cold, and another experiences fever and anxiety, although both complain of stomach pain, their respective acupuncture treatments will be different. They may both utilize some of the same acupuncture points, but the other points will vary, reflecting the unique manifestation of symptoms. 

     In ancient China, medical knowledge did not come to light through autopsies. The ancient physicians and philosophers did not study dead matter to learn how life flourishes. Some of their methods depended on empirical observation and not the scientific method. They acquired their knowledge by observing and experiencing reality.

    Perhaps a man with a backache got stuck with a thorn in his back, which punctured his skin. It was then his pain vanished and he felt strong again. Maybe scenarios like this happened enough, enabling a careful observer to piece together a pattern. This is an oversimplified example but demonstrates the point. 

     Consider the TCM saying ‘The tongue is the sprout of the heart.’ This means that literally, and metaphorically, people have the ability to speak from the heart. This manifests as poetry, or speaking truthfully or elegantly. If a person rants and raves it indicates a pathology, one that involves excess heat in the Heart. The Heart-heat irritates a person and causes out-of-control, hyperactive speech. The heart directly connects to the tongue, and in that way influences the quality, tone and volume of speech.

     What is very interesting is that in-utero, in the beginning stages of the fetus, there is a point before the cells differentiate when the heart and tongue share the same tissue. As the fetus develops and takes on a more recognizable shape, the tissue stretches from the heart and ‘sprouts a tongue.’ This is an amazing discovery, without the benefit of advanced technology! How in the world did the ancients know this? Was it just by tireless observation, spontaneous revelation or divine inspiration? Perhaps the intrigue of TCM lies just as much in its mysteries, as in its wisdom.

3 komentarze

  1. I do accept as true with all the concepts you have presented in your post.
    They are very convincing and will definitely work.

    Nonetheless, the posts are too short for beginners. May just you please lengthen them a bit from next
    time? Thank you for the post.

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