and Traditional Oriental Medicine
by Daniel Schulman,
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(TOM), body, mind and spirit are not viewed separately. They are
an inseparable unity. We are both a mindful body and an embodied
mind. Imbalances in the body-mind-spirit system can manifest as
a combination of physical and emotional signs and symptoms. Within
the theoretical and diagnostic TOM system, everything from the
location of moles on your body to the state of your digestive
functions to your emotional state are part of a pattern. 'Depression'
is a very all-encompassing word. A Traditional Oriental Medicine
practitioner may treat each of 20 cases of depression very differently.
The individual is always the focus.
Traditional Oriental Medicine system is based on many different
concepts. The twelve meridian/organ complexes (examples include
the Liver, Gall Bladder, Kidney, Bladder, Spleen and Stomach)
and the five phases (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water) are two
TOM principles used to shed light on problems of the body, mind
and spirit. Each meridian, organ and phase has its own set of
body, mind and spirit associations.
use the Wood phase as an example. Wood associates with the Liver
and Gall Bladder. Its predominant emotion is anger. In keeping
with the central principle of balance, anger in itself is not
a bad thing. It is either an inappropriate display of or absence
of anger, which would signal an imbalance within your Wood system.
Repressed anger can often be at the core of depression. Other
mental/emotional associations with an imbalanced Wood phase include
courage (lack of or too much) and difficulties around decision-making.
Wood imbalances can manifest with visual symptoms, temporal or
vertex headaches, muscle spasm, brittle nails, inflexibility (physical
or emotional) and a dislike of wind. If these signs dominated
your picture, your Wood imbalance would the focus of acupuncture
treatment and lifestyle modification.
can propagate just as easily from the emotional level (psyche)
through the musculoskeletal level (somatic) to the organ level
(visceral) as from the visceral to the somatic to the psychological.
So, for example, a longstanding physical problem with the Liver
organ can eventually manifest emotional signs within the Wood
phase (somatopsychological). Conversely, longstanding emotional
problems within the Wood phase (anger) can ultimately manifest
with physical symptoms in the Wood/Liver/Gall Bladder system (psychosomatic).
At the spirit level, the Wood phase (the Liver in particular)
is associated with the spiritual faculty the Ancient Chinese called
the 'hun', often translated as the 'ethereal soul'.
other important Traditional Oriental Medicine concepts shed light
on you as a whole person. For example, an assessment of the state
of your 'Blood' (as a TOM concept, not a Western Medical concept)
may reveal a history of heavy menstrual bleeding, dry skin, a
thin pulse and a tendency to be cold all the time. In this case,
your depression may be rooted in what TOM would call 'Blood Deficiency'.
Blood is considered the foundation for the spirit in TOM since
Blood is Yin and the spirit is Yang. If Blood is deficient, the
spirit is not anchored properly, producing feelings of anxiety
and uneasiness. This imbalance is treatable with acupuncture,
herbs and dietary modifications.
has heard of Yin and Yang. This is another central concept in
Traditional Oriental Medicine. TOM has long recognized the manic
(Yang) and depressive (Yin) aspects of mental illness. These are
specifically addressed in a number of ways.
depression may, according to TOM, have a lifestyle component.
Oriental Medicine stresses the importance of living appropriately
for each season. Our lives are very out of touch with the seasons.
Central heating in winter and air conditioning in summer send
mixed signals to the body. Cold salads and tropical fruits in
February are seasonally inappropriate. In part, seasonal depression
may respond to some degree of seasonal realignment in your lifestyle.
Oriental Medicine has much to offer in the realm of emotional
healing. It works optimally when combined with psychotherapy,
counseling or some active pursuit of personal growth. Some studies
have shown that when psychotherapy and acupuncture are combined,
results are better than when either is used by itself. One of
the biggest problems I face in my practice is that most people
seek help from TOM as a 'last resort'; after they have tried many
other things and have been managed pharmaceutically for years.
My job is made more difficult by the presence of very entrenched
patterns often combined with longstanding medication side effects.
Traditional Oriental Medicine works best when used as an 'early
Schulman practices Chinese and Japanese Acupuncture in his Charlottetown
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