How to Get Healthy According to 3 Traditions

Western medicine, Chinese medicine, and Qigong offer unique pathways to heal illness
March 28, 2020 Updated: March 30, 2020

How often do you fall sick, catch a cold, or come down with a fever? And how do you usually recover from it? Do you just wait it out, or head to a doctor or a pharmacy? Do you seek herbal remedies of Chinese medicine? Or is there an alternative unconventional approach that brings you back to peak health?

Let’s have a quick look at three common healing methods available in the world today, including an alternative approach practiced by over 100 million people.

Western Medicine

This is the method we are most familiar with, so no need to explain it in great detail. For most people in our society today, when they fall ill they visit a doctor of Western medicine or a pharmacy for prescribed pills that they take until they recover. These pills generally attack the disease or disease systems directly and largely bypass the body’s own disease fighting systems. If you have a fever, the pills will suppress the body’s fever response, which is actually an immune response used to burn out pathogens but can become dangerous if the body overheats in the process of fighting the disease. Western medicine has a set of clinical theories and treatment methods that include pills, surgery, injections, radiation therapy, etc.

Western medicine focuses on direct methods like “fix the head when the head hurts” and “fix the foot when the foot aches.” For example, radiation therapy might be given to someone undergoing cancer treatment, whilst a fever would require antipyretics. On the other hand, a tumor can be removed via an operation.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) employs a holistic approach to treating an illness instead of solely relying on medication. It tries to work with the body’s existing systems, to strengthen them to fight the disease or it directs the patient in how to remove the root cause of the disease.

In TCM, the human body is viewed as an integrated system, and physicians use the different theories of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements theory, and the Meridian system to make a diagnosis. In addition, there is also an emphasis on living in harmony with the environment and the relationship between mind and body. It also focuses on how emotions and environmental factors can affect human health.

Thus, when a doctor of Western medicine deduces that a cold was due to virus infection, a doctor of TCM, on the contrary, would conclude that it was a result of the imbalance of Yin and Yang caused by blocked energy channels. This may be caused by emotional upheaval, lack of rest, and a poor diet.

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“TCM is an advanced medical/healing system that has a very close relationship with Daoism, including a strong focus on prevention and preservation,” said Christina Xu of PreserveHealth.com.au, a website that specializes in TCM.

“This is very different from western medicine, which is more focused on curing illness after it develops. Chinese medicine aims to maintain and optimize health and wellbeing and is a preventative form of medicine,” she further added.

Dr. Jingduan Yang, an MD who is also an expert in Chinese medicine and acupuncture, agrees. Dr. Yang once mentioned in an interview, which was published in CBS Health Watch in 2000, that if a patient were to seek him out for treatment in Western medicine, he would charge the patient US$200, whereas he would only charge US$100 if a patient asks for other traditional medicine.

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Dr. Jingduan Yang is a neurologist, psychiatrist, and expert in Chinese medicine and integrative medicine. (Courtesy of Dr. Yang)

Citing the reason for the price variation, Dr. Yang said, “The patient will be shouldering half the responsibility for their own wellness by watching their diet and making prescribed changes to their lifestyle in order to heal.”

Dr. Yang is also the founder of Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine, Tao Clinic of Acupuncture, and the American Institute of Clinical Acupuncture.

Qigong

Apart from Western and Chinese medicine, there are now many popular yet unconventional ways that people choose to get relief from their ailments, especially when neither of the conventional methods work. One of them is “Qigong,” is a modern term that most people recognize in regards to slow-moving exercises like Tai Qi. In fact, the term actually means self-improvement cultivation practice.

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Cultivation practices, especially ancient Chinese practices, were largely rooted in the religions of Buddhism and Daoism. Apart from doing the exercises to keep fit, these practices entail the refinement of mind and spirit. Dr. Yang mentioned that he would charge US$100 if someone seeks him out for TCM treatment. However, he promised to provide free services for those who want to learn cultivation practice—to be more precise, Falun Gong. The reason?

The TCM expert said it’s because in this situation “the patient has assumed complete responsibility for his or her own health and is on the road to wellness.” But how exactly does a cultivation practice, like Falun Gong, help a person gain physical wellness?

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, was introduced to the public in China in 1992. Based on the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance, this ancient mind-body practice consists of five gentle moving exercises.

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At the root of Falun Gong’s healing power is its ability to help a person change themselves, to help them change their mental state to be more calm, and exercise self-restraint to refrain from damaging thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This can allow them to stop holding resentments or resorting to unhealthy comfort foods when they feel anxious. There are deeper aspects as well.

Within five years since its introduction in China, the number of people practicing it skyrocketed to at least 70 million people, according to a state-run survey in China. The reason was its healing power, both spiritual and physical. Today, Falun Gong is practiced by over 100 million people from all over the world.

In September 1998, the Chinese State Sports Bureau conducted a survey on 12,553 Falun Gong practitioners and found that the illness healing rate was 77.5 percent, while another 20.4 percent said that their overall health had improved. In another survey conducted in over five districts in Beijing on 14,199 practitioners, the results showed 80.3 percent of people were in better physical shape after taking up the practice, and 96.5 percent said they saw an improvement in their mental state.

“The medical healing power produced by Falun Gong [the exercises of Falun Dafa] is hard to understand because it belongs to another paradigm,” Dr. Yang said, but shared that “the cultivation of mind and spirit that Falun Dafa teaches is consistent with the modern understanding of health.”

Milan Freitag, a clinical psychologist, is not a practitioner of Falun Gong; however, he told CBS Health Watch that integrating mind, body, and spirit into healing is becoming a “powerful force.”

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“There is an emerging realization that it is not all about looking at the liver in isolation,” he said. “You have to look at the whole person: exercise, meditation, social support system, and mindful living.”

Having done research on the connection between the mind and body, and its relation to health, Freitag, a Ph.D. graduate, gave an example of how one’s mind can affect health. “Cumulative stress decreases the activity of the immune system and eventually takes a toll on our health,” Freitag said.

Zhi Ping Kolouch, a Falun Gong practitioner who is also an acupuncturist, added on to Freitag’s illustration with a simplified example: “If a person is miserable inside their heart, then they will get sick.”