TCM maintains that an individual’s energy system are comprised of inborn qi and jing produced throughout life. Inborn qi represents our constitution, which depends on our parents. If inborn qi is deficient, the individual is more susceptible to the whole range of external and internal factors, which can possibly cause a disharmony. Therefore, if we believe that we have any constitutional weakness, we need to take particular care to ensure that any other potential causes of disharmony in our lives are avoided if at all possible.
TCM has always recognized the importance of “lifestyle factors” in the maintenance of good health and well being. This now has become the focus of Western medicine.
The kind of work we do, or lack of it if unemployed, can profoundly influence our energy system. Too much physical work can impair the qi (vital energy), and with excessive lifting the lungs become deficient. Too much mental activity can damage the spleen and make the yin deficient. Someone who works outdoors, for example, is more liable to be at risk from cold, dampness, wind or heat evils.
Exercise, if undertaken to an extreme can cause disharmony. For example, many athletes, who train to an excessive degree, appear very fit, but are often very susceptible to infections and injuries. In the long run they may become chronically qi (vital energy) deficient because of overstressing the kidneys. It will be noted that many Chinese exercise regimes such as qi-gong or taijichuan are not obviously aerobic in nature like many Western forms of exercise. These practices however, offer a more balanced approach to exercise consistent with the principles of TCM. It is evident that good health and longevity are notable in the practitioners of such activities.
Diet is afforded a very important place in Chinese medicine. See Chinese Functional Foods. The stomach and spleen have the responsibility for processing food and extracting the nutrient essence, which is then passed onto the lungs as a central part of the production of qi (vital energy) in the body. If the spleen has to work against poor and damaging foods, then it will suffer (especially from damp) and the body will deplete the qi (vital energy) of the body as a whole.
Balance rather than specific dietary instructions represents the Chinese approach to nutrition. If an individual follows a healthy and balanced diet, then the spleen will remain healthy and the qi (vital energy) of the body will be sufficient. The overemphasis on sweet and processed foods in many Western diets does not lend itself to such a balance.
- Sexual Activity
In TCM, excessive sexual activity is considered to be damaging to kidney jing and can lead to long-term deficiency problems. An excessive number of pregnancies can seriously deplete a woman’s blood and jing. While there is much debate about what is considered excessive sexual activity, the Chinese system generally emphasizes a natural decline in this activity as part of the ageing process.
During the course of illness, some pathological products are formed; they can in turn act directly or indirectly on certain tissue or organs, and cause new pathological conditions. The above mentioned five inner evils (wind, cold, dampness, dryness and fire evils) create these kind of changes. Retention of phlegm, static fluid and blood stasis are other commonly developed conditions.
- Retention of phlegm and static fluid
These are attributed to disorder in fluid metabolism, phlegm is thick and turbid, static fluid is thin and clear. The fluid metabolism is managed by the lungs, spleen, kidneys, and triple burner. When these organs are affected by the six evils, diet or seven emotions, they under-function and fluid metabolism is disturbed, which in turn causes the detention of water and body fluid.
- Blood stasis
Blood stasis refers to general non-smooth blood circulation, or localized stagnated blood flow, or blood exudates from the vessels that fail to disperse. Blood stasis is usually caused by qi (vital energy) deficiency, qi (vital energy) stagnation, or cold evil or heat evils attacking the blood. Features of blood stasis are characterised with stabbing pain, cyanosis, tumour, bleeding (dark purplish blood with clotting), dark complexion, dry skin, purplish dark tongue with tiny bleeding spot, and a thready and uneven pulse.
This last category includes accidents and injuries, which affect the qi (vital energy) of the body depending on their type and severity. In addition, other problems such as pollution and contamination of food can readily be placed in this category.
In Chinese medical theory, all diseases have a definite cause, either internal or external in origin. Of the two, internal factors are more important because it is internal weakness, which first permits invasion by external forces of excess. A strong, healthy, well-balanced body and mind will resist attack from even the most extreme environmental factors. This again explains the stress that TCM places on basic preventative care through diet, exercise, breathing, regulated sex, and preventative herbal prescriptions. It has only been in the past few decades that Western medicine has started to follow suit and incorporate some TCM concepts into its practice.