Oriental Medicine is the term used to describe a constellation of medical traditions that originated in China around 200 BC and then spread to the whole of East Asia (modern China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam) where these traditional therapies are still practised alongside and/or in alternative to Western Medicine.
Oriental Medicine offers a complex and sophisticated description of the way the human body works and its philosophical principles are integral part of a unique conception of life that has permeated the Eastern culture for more than 3000 years.
In an extremely synthetic and not at all exhaustive way it is possible to summarise these principles as follows:
The principle of change
Reality is a process in constant flux. A spontaneous self-organising law of nature called dao 道 is the un-manifested aspect underpinning Reality. The yijing (the book of change), one of the oldest Chinese Classics, describes the dao as something intangible that is above what takes form, and Zhuan-zi (370 – 301 BC) an important daoist philosopher further clarifies that “those who discriminate fail to see the dao”.
The principle of contradiction
We can perceive reality through differentiation and separation. Perception is nothing but the expression of the interaction between two opposites: yin 陰 yang 陽 which complement each other and interact continuously in the attempt to go back to the undistinguishable unity of the dao. The motivating force, the breath of existence resulting from their constant interaction and intercourse is called qi 氣.
The principle of holism
Nothing is isolated and independent, everything is interconnected. In the yijing (Book of Change) the “unity of heaven and humanity”, referred to as tianrenheyi 天人合一 , sees heaven/nature and humanity as an unbreakable continuum. Everything in the universe is related to everything else and anything taken in isolation is out of context. In the heart and mind of a practitioner of Oriental medicine no distinction is made between emotional, spiritual, mental aspects and what is considered the mere physical function. This unity also manifests in the singularity of the practitioner/patient relationship: Oriental medicine still considers the practitioner somehow more effective than the medicine itself. From this point of view Oriental Medicine is a humanistic science, a living tradition in a continuous process of organic development as simply explained by the contemporary master Zhang Zhiwen 张之文:
What is important to understand is that the science of Oriental Medicine has grown like a plant: an organic process due to the contribution of hundred and hundred of generations of physicians gaining experience by treating people again and again
Oriental Medicine preserves health and treats disease using several modalities: acupuncture, herbal therapy and bodywork techniques such as massage, qigong and taiji (tai chi).