Chinese Medicine Is Slow Medicine

To cure disease—rather than mask the symptoms—requires a deeper approach
February 12, 2020 Updated: February 12, 2020

I hate to wait. Put me in a line that’s more than three people long, and I am the person tapping my toe and muttering about poor service. I rarely order stuff online because I want it now. And don’t even think about putting me on hold. So it’s very interesting that I am attracted to and practice Chinese medicine—a system of healing that is essentially slow.

If you are looking for a quick fix, Chinese medicine is not for you. It is usually not a one-shot deal. People who come for one session thinking that everything will be good to go afterward are often disappointed. It demands patience; it is not a quick fix, and it is not a silver bullet. That said, the benefits of the slow nature of this medicine are many.

Your body is built to heal—and that takes time. Chinese medicine involves true healing, not just masking symptoms with a prescription drug. That means your practitioner must understand both what’s going on, and why it is happening. Once the true source of your symptoms are uncovered and treated, real healing can happen.

The nature of Chinese medicine insists that you slow down and get in touch with your body. Diagnosis and treatment can only move forward with your input as a patient. For example, you know that your headaches are migraines. But to be effective, your practitioner will need to know more. Is it one-sided? How often does it occur? Does the painful area like pressure applied or not? Is it related to changes in the weather? What else is going on with your health? Seemingly unrelated details are frequently big clues, and your practitioner can only be effective if they know those details. And for that to happen, you need to pay attention to your body. This is a good thing, as it leads to insights about your health that you might not have considered otherwise.

Chinese medicine is not only slow, but it is also gentle. Western medicine offers drugs and surgery. Chinese medicine offers herbs and a half hour or so of relaxation on a massage table during an acupuncture session. Which would you rather do?

Speaking of Chinese herbs, it’s true that the effects are subtle at first and they take longer than a prescription drug to work. In fact, many prescription meds are derived from the same herbs we practitioners use. However, the difference between the two is that when an actual herb is used, the whole herb is included for the benefit of the synergistic effect of all of the plant’s compounds. When a drug is made from an herb, only the active ingredients are extracted and made into a very potent medication–one that may work quickly but comes with side-effects because of it’s potency. Again, which would you rather do?

Finally, the nature of Chinese medicine usually means that a patient must participate in their own treatment, as lifestyle is often a key player in their condition. If your diet is making you sick, you have a responsibility to change it as part of the treatment process. If your 80-hour workweek is leaving you exhausted and irritable, acupuncture can only do so much. So if change is part of your treatment plan, you can plan on it taking some time. The upside is that the improvements you feel are real, not the effect of a medication that has temporarily alleviated your symptoms but left the cause in place.

So, it’s true that I’ve been described as…um, impatient. However, if I have the choice, I will happily choose the slow, gentle, and deep healing of Chinese medicine over drugs and surgery any day. It’s one instance in which I’m willing to take the slow route.

Related Coverage
Chinese Medicine Is Slow MedicineChinese Medicine: 9 Fall Foods for Good Health

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on