Theory: East and West

 

Metaphor of the Machine vs. Metaphor of the Garden

Western medicine takes a very mechanical view of how the body works. From replacing joints like you would replace a part in a car, to removing diseased organs as if they were optional, to the chemical reactions that are the focus of the pharmaceutical approach, the doctor is more like a mechanic. In eastern medicine, however, the body is a living, unified whole and every part is just as essential for optimal functioning as any other. In this system, the body is more like a garden that the doctor tends, caring for the patient by nourishing and supporting them to promote and facilitate the natural healing process.
 

Treat the Body and the Mind Separately vs. Together

There is a lot of compartmentalization in western medicine and it’s not just among those who specialize. Even though it is obvious that emotional conditions can cause physical symptoms and vice-versa, in western medicine, the body and the mind are treated as two separate entities. Though a doctor may prescribe a medication to manage the symptoms of an emotional imbalance, it is considered to be within the scope of counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists where these things are treated. In eastern medicine, there is no such distinction to be made; the body and the mind are two aspects of the same thing, inextricably interwoven, and they are always treated together.
 

Human Factory

The Concept of Chi

Your body can heal itself of an injury, resolve an infection, and grow a baby, all without you consciously having to think about it at all. Plus, your internal organs run 24/7, even while you are unconscious or asleep. Despite these obvious examples of your body’s innate lifeforce in action (a.k.a. chi), western medicine lacks this concept. In contrast, in eastern medicine, the concept of chi is so fundamental that one of the most primary treatment principles is to ensure its smooth flow all over the body. Chi is a force, so it does not correspond to nerves or other anatomical structures as they are defined in western medicine, though these often overlap with the pathways of chi. These pathways develop in utero and are the energetic blueprint upon which everything is laid. It is why our nerves, blood vessels, muscle fibers, and bones all lay in the same direction, even the way we process food and water.
 

The Concept of Tonification

Like chi, the concept of tonification is mostly missing from western medicine. Tonification is a treatment approach in eastern medicine that focuses on replenishing substances and energy reserves or restoring and normalizing internal organ function. Both acupuncture points and herbs can tonify, and chi, blood, yin, and yang can all be tonified. The closest parallel to this in western medicine are approaches that focus on treating nutrient deficiencies with supplementation.
 

Microscopic Focus vs. Macroscopic Focus

The theory of western medicine is based on cell biology and chemistry, so it often focuses on the microscopic level of chemical reactions. This is the basis of the pharmaceutical approach to medicine which targets specific chemical pathways. However, we are not microscopic creatures, so this approach can sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Eastern medicine is based on a much bigger idea. The theory behind this medicine starts with the general observation that everything in the universe is connected and everything is a different manifestation of chi. When applied to medicine, this entails looking at all systems and functions at once, seeing the person as a whole, seeking the common underlying patterns of imbalance that can give rise to disease in multiple systems at once. By focusing on these underlying imbalances, many different symptoms can be addressed.
 

Health as the Absence of Disease vs. Health as the Optimal Functioning of All Systems

In western medicine, health is defined less as optimal well-being and more as the absence of injury and overt disease. This is a much more quantitative way to measure health, where if you go to your annual checkup and your scans are negative and the numbers on your test are within normal parameters, you are assumed to be well. In eastern medicine, wellness is a more subjective, qualitative thing. No matter what, if you are feeling off, it is important to investigate why, even if symptoms are vague and all test results are negative. In eastern medicine, health means you are feeling well in both the subjective and objective sense.
 

Focus on the Central Nervous System vs. Focus on the Internal Organs

I western medicine, there is a clear hierarchy in the body. The brain is the seat of consciousness and it controls everything via the central nervous system. In eastern medicine, there is no such hierarchy. The focus is on the internal organs and how they interact with, balance, and support each other so that everything can coordinate and function together as a whole. Also, the heart is considered to be the seat of consciousness, not the brain.
 
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