Traditional Chinese Medicine

Since coming to naturopathic medical school my FAVOURITE elective has been Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)!!!! TCM has been practiced for thousands of years and started waaaay back in 3000 BC by several Chinese physicians and emperors. These men discovered the yin + yang theory, acupuncture, and Chinese herbs. Can I just say thank gosh for these dudes who got it all started!! We can now incorporate Chinese medicine into our Western medicine, which gives us another more holistic view of how to treat the body.



TCM is such an amazing way of healing but let me tell you it is also like learning a new language!! There are several different theories and the way they look at the body and its functioning, which is a lot different than Western medicine but once you learn it, it actually makes a lot of sense! I wanted to introduce some of the basic theories and concepts of TCM (you guys have probably even heard of some of them — everyone know yin + yang!) and of course the biggest most exciting portion of it ACUPUNCTURE!

Yin + Yang Theory 

The yin + yang theory is probably the most important theory in TCM! It is the foundation of all the physiology, pathology and treatment in TCM. The concept of yin + yang is very simple yet so complex at the same time. Yin + yang represent opposites yet they compliment each other (so basically as we know it yin + yang are opposites — like black and white)!

Some important things to remember:

  • Nothing is totally yin + nothing it totally yang (EVER!!!)
  • There is a seed of yin in yang + a seed of yang in yin (these are the little dots in the symbol!)
  • Yin can transform into yang + yang can transform into yin


The organs in your body can also be considered yin + yang (one will compliment the other)… I know I should crazy at this point but just trust me!

  • Yin organs — lungs, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, pericardium
  • Yang organs — large intestine, small intestine, gall bladder, stomach, bladder, san jiao

5 Element Theory 

The 5 elements theory represents 5 different states of natural phenomena. The 5 elements include: wood, fire, earth, metal, water. These elements can have different patterns of movement and different interrelationships with the other elements.

The relationships between the elements include:

  • Generating sequence — one grows from the other and generates another
  • Controlling sequence — ensures a balance between the elements
  • Over-acting sequence — when balance breaks and disease occurs
  • Insulting sequence — when balance breaks in the reverse order of the controlling sequence


Each element has corresponding characteristics that consider things like: system, symptoms, yin + yang organ, season, color, climate, sense organ, tissue, emotion, taste, sounds, body type, personality. This means that each person will fit into an element description and for some people they could have more than one!

This theory can help you to determine different disease states and is really good at helping with the diagnosis as well! Use this table to help determine what element you are!


4 Vital Substances 

In TCM the body and mind work they way they do due to the interactions of different vital substance in the body. It is thought that the mind and body are made up of Qi and are not separate entities on their own. Qi is the basis to all in TCM! So I’m sure at this point you are like what the heck is Qi, let me explain!!! (Ps. This stuff may seem super confusing but be open-minded and see if it makes sense to you!)

The 4 vital substances include:

Qi — is the energy and life force of the body

  • It makes up everything that is around us
  • It manifests on the physical, emotional and spiritual level
  • There are several different types of Qi (yuan, zong, zhong, ying, wei, and zhen)

Blood — is a type of Qi that is very dense and inseparable from Qi

  • It functions to nourish the body
  • It moistens the body tissues
  • It is the basis of the mind

Essence — in a precious substance that is to be cherished and guarded

  • You are born with a certain amount of essence and it will be decreased when you age
  • It is stored in the kidney
  • It cannot be replaced — it comes from your DNA
  • It is depleted by stress

Body fluids — is all the fluids in our body that are needed to maintain life

  • It functions to nourish, moisten + lubricate
  • Types:
    • Jin (thin fluids) — salvia, tears, sweat, clear urine, blood
    • Ye (thick fluids) — marrow, brain, gastric secretions, eyeballs

The 8 Principles

Everything is TCM is paired:

  • Yin + yang
  • Deficiency + excess
  • Hot + cold
  • Internal + external

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Finally, to the most exciting part!!!! I think by now everyone has some sort of idea how acupuncture work or what it is! It involves putting needles in specific areas of the body to help trigger the body to heal itself! From a TCM perspective, acupuncture helps to balances the mind + body, move blood + Qi, and help to treat internal issues with external points.


In TCM there are these pathways called meridians and inside them is Qi. For example, think of the meridians as the street and the Qi as a car, normally the car is able to drive freely on the road but if there is a roadblock then the car is going to stop and cause a backup. This is exactly what happens in the body, the Qi will get blocked and then using acupuncture you are able to release that blockage to get the energy flowing again.


Acupuncture is so individualized!!! After the physician determines the root cause of the problem they can find specific points that will help enhance the body to heal the cause. It can also be used for musculoskeletal issues (like tight muscles). The possibilities are endless when it comes to acupuncture!!!!


I hope this post taught you a little bit more about traditional medicine as it is becoming so much more popular in Western medicine! Share your acupuncture or TCM stories with me by tagging me @barefoot.brit




Maciocia, G. (2015). The foundations of Chinese medicine. China. Elsevier.

Kuoch, D. (2011). Acupuncture desk reference. San Francisco, CA. Acumedwest Inc.

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