What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Chinese New Year is China’s biggest holiday, but it is also celebrated annually around the world. The date changes from year to year, but always falls somewhere between mid-January and late February, as this is when the new moon is closest to the beginning of Spring.

In 2017, this important date fell on January 28 and so, as world attention turns to all things Chinese, let’s take a closer look at Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the important, complementary role it can play in our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dates back over 2 500 years, and is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism. It is built around several core beliefs, the most essential of which are:

  • Yin and Yang are two opposing, but complimentary forces. Harmony between the two exists when they are balanced, but an imbalance causes ill health and disease.
  • The stages of human life are symbolically represented by five elements – water, fire, earth, metal and wood. These elements explain the way the body functions and how it changes during illness and disease.
  • The human body itself is a miniature version of the universe that surrounds it.
  • Qi is a vital energy that flows through the body, performing many important functions to help maintain our overall health.

TCM also looks at our bodies as an integrated whole, believing our physical selves are inextricably linked with our emotional, intellectual and spiritual selves. It also stresses the vital connection between nature and ourselves, and how changes in nature – such as seasons, geographical location and time of day - are always reflected in our bodies.

Another, fundamental aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the belief that prevention is always better than cure. It’s vital that we become more and more in tune with our bodies so we can accurately interpret what they’re trying to tell us. We have the ability to self-heal and regenerate. We just need to access it.

The Practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM encompasses several different practices, including tai chi, Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion and tui na, among others. In Western cultures, the most commonly practiced forms of TCM are acupuncture, tai chi and Chinese herbal medicine.


Acupuncture encompasses a variety of techniques that center around the stimulation of specific points on the body. Possibly the most familiar and well-documented acupuncture technique is that in which the skin is punctured with thin metal needles which are then manipulated either manually or electronically.

Tai Chi

Tai chi dates back centuries. It uses slow, gentle and graceful movements to enhance mental focus, relaxation and breathing. Regular practice can improve health, co-ordination and body alignment. Tai chi is also a form of martial art and can actually be used to overcome the disconnected speed and brute strength from an opponent.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

This is the use of thousands of plants, minerals and animal products, which are combined using different formulae and prescribed as capsules, teas, liquid extracts, powders or granules. Much like TCM as a whole, Chinese Herbal Medicine places high importance on lifestyle management to prevent illness, recognising that health is not just the absence of disease, but the optimum maintenance of our bodies to enhance our physical well-being and overall happiness.

Dr. Alain Sanua is a homeopathic and functional medicine practitioner who incorporates Traditional Chinese Medicine into his holistic and integrated approach to overall health and wellness. Read more about his philosophy at About Johannesburg Homeopath or contact him today for an appointment.


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