Category Archives: Course : Fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Be The Yin To My Yang (and other true stories)

Day 3

by Gene Chuah

As they say, “opposites attract”, particularly in the context of relationships. In yesterday’s Fundamentals of TCM class, we learned how Traditional Chinese Medicine, through the Yin-Yang Model, explains this phenomenon.

It’s quite simple, really. We’ve got the 2 sides of the coin :

masculine feminine
hot cold
active sedentary
bright dark
moving supporting
noisy silent

… and now for the less obvious ones :

heaven earth
outside inside
light heavy
dry wet
back body (dorsal) front body (ventral)
head/chest body
spirit physical body
time space
thoughts actions
energy matter


Yin and Yang are :

1. Opposites

The two forces are constantly pushing each at other, always aspiring to get into balance, but they never do — because as soon as that happens, something changes again and the constant tug-of-war (well, push in this case) continues. They day it stops is when “life” (whatever system it may be) stops, either because it has run out of steam, or because one side became so unbalanced that the system got out-of-whack, broke and had to come to an end.

Some examples : hyperthyroidism vs. hypothroidism; acidic vs. alkaline., sympathetic vs. parasympathetic nervous systems, anabolic vs. catabolic.

Another example we discussed : Stomach (TCM) vs. Spleen TCM). The Stomach is Yang (runs hotter), while the Spleen (which in TCM represents the function of the intestines) is Yin (runs cooler). The Stomach and Spleen are constantly “pushing” at each other in the sense that Stomach sends heat (Yang energy) to Spleen, which lacks it and needs it to run. Spleen in turn sends “cooling” (Yin energy) to Stomach which tends to overheat.

In treating imbalance of the Stomach/Spleen, where we see symptoms like heartburn, nausea, thirst and hunger (all symptoms of “Stomach Fire”), we use acupuncture to help “nudge” the energies from each organ where they need to go (Stomach->Spleen and Spleen->Stomach). Sometimes cycles get stuck and they just need a little nudge. Herbs and diet are also treatment options (e.g. cooling alkaline foods like veggies).

Most ailments in Western society are due to the fast pace of life and resulting stress, causing a “burning of Yin” among most people. Because Yang energy is so predominant and excessive (UFC, monster truck rallies)?, Yin is needed to bring it into balance, but gets “burned up” fast. What comes to my mind is a car engine overheating, blowing the radiator cap and burning up the water (the Yin). In turn, the remaining Yang energy also gets depleted because it lacks a “control” (Yin) to keep it cool — back to our car analogy, the engine overheats to the point of meltdown. Hmm. I think I may have been almost there… haven’t you?

When Yin and Yang are out of whack with each other, disease appears in the body.


2. Interdependent

The two forces can’t exist without each other. They need each other, they define each other. Even though opposite, it is a complementary, symbiotic relationship. The quality of the energy of this relationship is ever-changing, in line with the constant push-of-war.

Because they are opposing and complementary :

You can’t have… Because…
Yang + Yang Clash of the Titans!
Yin + Yin Boring!

Yin and Yang are basically polarities. Apparently every one of us has ALL the qualities of each other, it’s just a matter of the “range” of each quality. Take the quality of being rigid (Yang?) vs being flexible (Yin?). If there was an absolute scale of 0 – 10, then Alfred could have a range of 2 – 4, Bob could have 3-8, Charlie could have 6 – 9, and so on.


3. Mutually consuming-supporting

This sounds complicated. Consuming-supporting? It’s really simple. Earlier we said Yin and Yang were constantly pushing at each other. However, they also pull from each other, draw from each other and mutually “use up” each other while “benefiting”. An example is a burning candle, with Yang being the flame and Yin being the wax. Another example : a tub of ice cubes (Yin) melting in a room of warm air (Yang). As the ice cubes give up its Yin to the warm air, they become less like ice cubes. As the warm air “nourishes” the ice cubes with its Yang, it becomes less warm.


4. Constantly transforming

We didn’t cover this one yet due to lack of time. Next class!



Some other great gems we covered in yesterday’s class :

Is the body a machine, or is it a garden?

Do you merely replace a part when it is broken? Or do you treat the body as a living organism, a system of subsystems?

The key thing is that the body can heal itself, whereas a machine cannot. A TCM practitioner must remember that most of his work is in facilitating healing. The body will heal itself when given the right conditions. Conversely, disease develops when the wrong conditions are present. This is the key principle behind Gerson Therapy for cancer (google this) which addresses (1) detoxification (to remove whatever’s stopping your body from healing, and (2) nutrition (to provide building blocks and fuel for healing). These 2 principles are also used in TCM (unblocking/moving the blockage, then tonifying/strengthening to reverse the deficiency). It’s that simple. You don’t need to meddle too much. OK let me say it another way. You don’t need to doctor the results.

Back to the garden analogy… actually I prefer the aquarium analogy. There are “planted tanks” kept by hobbyists that are all-natural, and are an entire mini-ecosystem. They don’t use fish medications because there’s no need for it. Good bacteria are encouraged in the water which protect the fishes’ slime coat. The plants help clean the water and provide oxygen. Aquatic invertebrates like shrimp and snails all do their part (some snails eat up fish poop, some shrimp eat hair algae). Even different types of fishes play different roles — some clean the bottom of the tank, others eat algae. Most important is good lighting which simulates the role of the sun and provides energy to the whole system. Now compare this with the “beginner” aquarium — imagine fake plants and goldfish… they’re constantly getting “white spot” and other diseases, and the poor owner is constantly putting in one type of fish medication after another, and having to constantly clean the tank and scrub it for algae. If you were a fish, which tank would you prefer?


Active vs. passive role of patient

Some patients just want you to fix the problem. They don’t take care of their body, are not self-aware, don’t educate themselves on health topics (either unable or unwilling). Other patients are the opposite. There is a bell curve to describe patients :

20% 60% 20%
Very Poor Condition
Usually on a cocktail of pharma drugs; could be in intensive care; very into the Western medical model.
Just the “usual” complaints.
Very Good Health
Proactive in health maintenance, self-aware, conscientious.


Case Study : H. Pylori and Peptic Ulcers

In the medical world it was suddenly “discovered” that this bacteria, Helicobacter Pylori, is apparently responsible for peptic ulcers (in a sense this is true if you observe its activities). Conventional treatments include targeting this particular bug with antibiotics. The irony is that the patient actually gets worse. Why?

I read up on this a few years ago. Conventional medicine is actually missing the big picture. The H. Pylori is actually not the root cause but one of the middle links in the chain. You get an overgrowth of this gut bacteria if you don’t have healthy gut bacteria (probiotics, friendly bacteria). This is usually caused by many factors including a diet poor in probiotic foods, consumption of overprocessed foods, and consumption of foods that are toxic to friendly bacteria (alcohol? preservatives?). That’s the thing about gut bacteria — they have their own ecosystem and if the conditions are wrong, then one species will flourish at the expense of others, and it will do its Godzilla-style carnage on the town.

As further proof of this idea — 80% of the population has H. Pylori in their gut anyway, but why don’t they develop peptic ulcers?

Conventional treatment is focused on wiping out this bug with antibiotics, but this is a brute-force approach, like dropping an atomic bomb on the town to kill Godzilla. People die too. When you have zero levels of friendly bacteria in your gut, your immune system is compromised, making you more vulnerable to other viruses/bacteria from the environment, and you also lose the help in digesting your meals, which probiotics provide (among many other benefits they provide).

TCM considers peptic ulcers an excess Yang (heat) condition and treatment includes acupuncture, diet modification (cooling/Yin foods), and stress reduction. What I would add to the mix is probiotic foods (kimchi, yogurt and all that good stuff) as well.

The moral of the story : don’t try to fight the fire directly. Take away the oxygen, the fire dies.


TCM Causality, “Superstition” and Philosophy

Day 2

by Gene Chuah

Are poor people more likely to steal because they are poor, or are they poor because they are the type who would rather steal than work hard? Does A cause B, or does B cause A? In yesterday’s class, we learned that it doesn’t have to be in one direction only. B can also cause A while A is causing B. And, surprise, there may be a third factor C, affecting A and/or B. So yes, crime rates are high in poor neighbourhoods partly because poor people “need” to steal, but they’re also poor to begin with because maybe they’re the criminally-minded type who would rather “reap where they have not sown”, and therein lies the root of their poverty. AND  there could also be an oppressive feudal lord over them, collecting half their income in taxes, and preying on their weakened, oppressed state, and keeping them poor and stealing! We learned that this is one of the beautiful things about Traditional Chinese Medicine because it helps explain the root cause of many diseases and chronic conditions — rather than a fixed, simplistic model of things, we have a rich, complex network of interacting causes and effects which themselves can each reverse their role.

We covered quite a lot in yesterday’s class : (1) how the different modalities in TCM emerged due to the unique differences in the 5 main geographic regions in China (North, South, East, West, and Central), with things like climate and natural resources as factors; (2) how the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic), as the first “scientific” medical book (written between approx 250BC – 200AD) influenced the tone of TCM by taking out the “superstition” and presenting TCM in a more systematic fashion; (3) how belief systems like Daoism and Confucianism influenced TCM; (4) the different diagnostic methods in TCM; (5) steps in treating a patient (diagnosis and treatment breakdown); (6) how the West influenced TCM when contact was made, and (7) some unique characteristics of TCM (cylical vs. linear, non-invasiveness, tailor-made vs. mass-produced).

One of the most popular criticisms of TCM is that it is “witch doctorism”. Well, now we know that in early history, that may have been the case, but TCM in its evolution “phased out” the superstitious stuff (appeasing spirits to cure disease, etc.) and became scientific. The scientific method is plain and simple and accessible even to the non-modern mind — test whatever is repeatable, and document it. So boo to you if you still think that Traditional Chinese Medicine is flaky voodoo.

Some things about Daoism. It is meant to be an observation of the natural laws of the universe. If I could put it into one sentence, based on what we learned in class yesterday, it would be this : “simple is good, and, It is what It is”. We learned that “the 10,000 things” are really just one thing, and vice versa. Ronny talked about how this relates to macrocosms/microcosms and that this is a pattern we see in TCM as well — the “correspondence” idea — for instance, Wind (a TCM term) in the external environment can produce Wind in the body and aggrave one’s condition. One side of the coin influences the other side correspondingly. Fractal theory came to my mind. The planet can be thought of as a living organism, just as each one of us is a miniature model of it. The planet can affect us, but we too affect it with our lifestyle choices.

This next topic ties in so beautifully : how the West came to be like the East and the East came to be like the West. During the Communist revolution in China, the party leaders were debating whether or not to leave Traditional Chinese Medicine behind since they wanted to modernize and get rid of old baggage. They ended up keeping it, but from that point on there has always been a strong push to “Westernize” TCM. So today’s “Traditional” Chinese Medicine as practiced in China, is not really that traditional. It has been merged into a new animal altogether. What’s known as TCM in the West now is actually Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM). Thanks to pioneers like Giovanni Maciocia (author of The Foundations of Chinese Medicine) who visited, lived and breathed China and then preserved Chinese Medicine, we today still have a good chunk of the real deal. Thanks to his efforts and those of others like him, Classical Chinese Medicine flourished in the Western world, and there’s been no stopping it ever since; the holistic medicine movement has embraced TCM and now the Western mind is “looking east” where this is concerned. In regards to the preservation of CCM in the West, ironically I see glimpses of this in North America with Asian immigrants — they preserve their culture (through family life, communal groups, cultural organizations) while the rest of Asia chugs along and evolves into something else… Westernizing, evolving, into a whole different animal (no judgement on my part). But again here we see “correspondence”, duality, and the cyclical cause/effect idea at work.

I should also mention that the principle of non-invasiveness in TCM stems from Confucian teachings — that there is an order to things, and everything has its place in the overall structure. The idea of respect is a big thing in Confucianism (social order, hierarchy, respect for parents and elders). This idea of respect carries through and applies in Chinese medicine, where we don’t cut the body open to try and diagnose/treat it, but do whatever we can from outside the body. Respect and working in harmony with the laws of nature and the universe are key principles of TCM. Now contrast this with brute-force approaches in conventional medicine, the “slash, burn and poison” of surgery, radiotheraphy and chemotherapy for instance. This is such an important concept and I wish more people understood this. Look up Dr. Xiaolan Zhao for an instance of a TCM doctor who’s had massive success in cancer treatment.

Ronny also introduced the 5 Elements Theory. Can’t wait to get into the nuts and bolts of it!


First Day At School!

Day 1

by Gene Chuah

Insane in the membrane !! I’m finally pursuing my passion – today is my first day of class in the Acupuncture program. Words cannot express how happy I feel just to have taken this step. I am enrolled at the Shiatsu School of Canada and this is the Fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine course. It’s been years overdue, and for one reason or other I didn’t start sooner; but everything happens for a reason and maybe there was no better time than this.

Already made some friends in class !! Like-minded is an understatement. I can already feel the vibe from some of these students and I know we are in for good times ahead. In some of our introductions we talked about our frustrations with the corporate world and how dog-eat-dog it is, and why we wanted to do this instead. All 7 of us in the class are doing this as a second career; many are RMTs, and one physiotherapist.

I’ve been passionate about TCM and holistic healing for the longest time, so when the instructor Ronny Breuer talked about some of the topics, thankfully I wasn’t too lost; not only that, I felt that I discovered so many new “leads” on the topics I am excited about.

In the Eastern healing arts, everything ties in to each other so beautifully. From my knowledge of Pranic Healing (GMCKS), the 2 sides of the main coin are : Congestion and Depletion. You either have too much energy causing a blockage, or you have insufficient energy causing weakness. So you treat by either removing / breaking up the blockage, or by energizing to replenish the low energy. Same thing in TCM !! They use different terminology, but the concepts are the same :

Pranic Healing TCM
problem : congestion

solution : cleanse / sweep / cut / remove
problem : excess / stagnation / stasis

solution : stimulate / unblock / move
problem : depletion

solution : energize
problem : deficiency

solution : tonify / strengthen


This is where the “duality” idea comes in, symbolized by the Yin & Yang :


As we learned in Pranic Healing, this symbol is incomplete without the little white dot and the little black dot. The reason is that “in the black, there is the seed of white, and in the white, there is the seed of black”. Good health comes from keeping the two forces in balance.

In today’s class we discussed the different treatment modalities in TCM : acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, tuina massage, herbs, “meditation in movement” (Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga), nutrition, Gua-Sha, Plum Blossom / Seven Star, Bloodletting, and microsystems (auricular, hand). We also discussed some of the history of TCM and some etymology (evolution of language/meaning).

What blew me away was how the duality principle cuts through all these modalities. I had heard of modalities like cupping but never really understood how they work, until today.

Oh !! Tangent time !! Holistic nutrition also has this same duality principle at work — it’s Detoxification and Nutrition. Oh my neurons are firing !! Same principle in Information Technology, no? Output and Input?

But back to cupping. The whole idea is that you’re bringing stagnant, toxic blood up from the deep tissues and close to the skin, where “the river runs faster” (my term) and these waste products can get eliminated by the body easier. Who knows how much junk/toxins the average person has embedded in his or her organs and tissues, given the pollutants in the environment today. C’mon, we’re talking pharmaceutical drugs and heavy metals in your drinking water, to say the least.

I also learned today that pain, in almost all cases, is a result of one side of the duality coin – can you guess which? It’s the Congestion/Excess/Stagnation side. As opposed to weakness, numbmess, tingling and general lameness caused by the other side (Depletion, Deficiency).

Bloodletting… ah what an interesting topic. Before you dismiss this as one of the medieval arts that is just plain silly, know this : modern medicine uses “medicinal leeches” (hirudotherapy) (why does the word “medicinal” suddenly make it sound all proper and non-dubious? Like medicinal marijuana? Maybe it was never dubious to begin with?) and these leeches are actually used, yes, even in modern medicine, for the purpose of bloodletting (google: leech therapy; also therapeutic phlebotomy). Although… in conventional medicine, its uses are limited to specific blood disorders, the fact remains that bloodletting actually works, especially because in modern society people have overloaded, toxic immune systems in need of some serious garbage disposal. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, despite the fact that most articles on the Web these days still mock bloodletting as dangerous archaic quackery, listing it alongside astrology, moon phases, purging, vomiting, and scary-sounding sharp instruments. Ignore all that superstition and stop reading Quackwatch, this stuff actually works, and works well. 5,000 years of development of Traditional Chinese Medicine can’t be wrong, I don’t care if they don’t have CAT scans.

There’s still so much I want to talk about, I’m still buzzing from the high of finally being on track with my passion now, but I guess tomorrow is another day. Wait… the next class is next week…. argggggg!!!! Must I count the seconds??!?!?!??!?!!! nnoooooooooo!!!!!!!! (it’s a part-time program… otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford it.)


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