In Western culture, when you see your doctor for an annual physical, he or she will most likely chat with you for a few minutes to see if anything major is going on in your life, then proceed to check your heart, lungs, head, neck, and abdomen for visible abnormalities involving the skin, muscles, connective tissues, and internal organs.
They check for any skin conditions such as rashes, any mass that could indicate a tumor, and tender areas that may indicate internal abnormalities.
They might also run a urine analysis and other routine tests checking the biochemical status of your metabolism, hormones, organ functions, and blood cells, noting any differences from your last visit.
They are looking for problems that may require medication or further investigative procedures. If they find an abnormality that they aren’t equipped to handle, the doctor would refer you to a specialist who would examine the issue and prescribe either a pharmaceutical treatment or a surgical treatment. Either route would most likely target the removal of the abnormality and relief of the symptoms. Very little interest is put into finding the root cause of the condition or measures to prevent a recurrence.
When your visits and tests show nothing abnormal, you will be given a clean bill of health and asked to come back in a year. In this case, very little will be discussed about what you should be doing before your next visit so you can maintain your health. If you have symptoms but nothing is discovered by physical exam or medical investigation, you will be advised you are under stress, or worse, that it’s all in your head.
The reason that modern medicine is practiced this way is because of a lack of understanding of the body’s energy circulation. When people talk about their health, they focus on physical exercises, body weight, and nutrition. Very few people ever think or talk about their energy or know how to properly take care of their energy.
Every time I mention the word energy, I get an immediate reaction: Energy? What do you mean? Well, energy is what supports the body’s biochemical process and physiological functions. It is the body’s energy that provides us a body temperature, maintains a steady heartbeat, circulates the blood and breath, digests food, regulates movements of bowels, controls muscle contractions and the ability to move, and allows us to speak, think, and feel.
Without this energy in the body, we would be dead even if nothing was deemed physically abnormal. If your energy were obstructed or out of balance, you would suffer from all kinds of mental and physical dysfunctions.
By discussing the knowledge of energetic medicine exampled by ancient Chinese medicine, I really want to engage patients in a different way of communicating with their body—and with their doctors—for the sake of their overall health, well-being, and countenance.
But to subscribe to the theories of Chinese medicine effectively, you must embrace the idea that maintaining good health is not necessarily about catching problems in time. It’s about actively cultivating good health so problems don’t develop in the first place. It’s also about being in touch with your body on a much deeper level than just noticing symptoms when they first appear.
While it’s encouraging to see that some Western doctors are moving away from the troubleshooting approach and administering far better preventative care, they are still a long way off from understanding the human condition as well as practitioners of Chinese medicine comprehend it. They consistently fail to check one of the most important determinants of how well we are functioning because it simply isn’t within their philosophy, scope, or study. This determinant can be found in our energy level.
If you have ever engaged in energy-based therapies such as Qigong, meditation, or acupuncture, then you know how effective attending to your energy can be. Yet, despite the consistent good health of people who incorporate these therapies into their lives and the remarkable recoveries of people who have turned to them in crisis, there are still many skeptics out there, particularly in the modern medical community. They just can’t imagine how such results are possible.
In some ways, their reactions are understandable because energy isn’t something we can easily see. But what they must understand is that energy is just like the air we breathe. We live in it and it lives in us. If we condition ourselves properly, we can feel the difference when its quality and quantity changes.
Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have been attuned to human energy and have successfully worked with it for centuries as a means of restoring and retaining good health. We call this energy ‘qi’ (Pronounced ‘chi’).
In everyday living, and certainly in clinical practice, we encounter qi all the time. Whenever you hear people say things such as, “I’m so tired,” or “I feel nauseous,” or “I’m so angry,” or “my hands and feet are always so cold,” or “I’m having hot flashes and sweating a lot,” what they are describing is the imbalance or disruption of the energy inside them. Qi is not unique to Chinese medicine; it’s the biological energy we obtain through breathing air and eating food. Our life started by obtaining qi and ends with the depletion of the qi.
In between, the qi has to flow smoothly and in the right direction along the channels that reach every part of the body, even where there are no arteries or nerves.
The challenge for modern medicine is that it has yet to visualize human energy the way Chinese medicine has. Modern medicine can only measure some of our energy’s activity through various high-tech scans, such as an electroencephalogram, while ancient Chinese medicine actually provides a detailed description and a complete map of our energetic anatomy, physiology, psychology, and pathophysiology.
We know exactly how our energies travel through the body, in the same way that we all know how blood flows through veins, arteries, and capillaries. We can track our energies’ movement through defined channels we call Jing Luo, often translated as meridians. We know which organs these energies connect with and what function they serve along with their route. We see this dimension of the human condition in addition to what modern medicine is capable of seeing.
By looking exclusively at the structural and biochemical aspects of health, modern medicine only sees a portion of your complete wellness picture. It can only identify health problems when your condition has worsened to the point where the problems are evident and can be measured by the naked eye or modern imaging technology.
By contrast, Chinese medicine teaches us that health issues don’t just occur overnight. They begin within the deeper energetic levels of our body. Becoming attuned to your energy levels and learning to keep them in balance is how you avoid the development of disease and how you truly maintain good health inside and out.
For example, If you experience chest pain but your doctor says you are fine, you should look into a blocked energy flow to your heart. If you feel fatigued and sluggish but no abnormalities are found in your blood work, you should look into deficient qi in your spleen. If you want to know how you are doing energetically, you can do a self-assessment using the scales in my book: Facing East: Ancient Beauty & Health Secrets for Modern Age.
Jingduan Yang, MD, is a neurologist, psychiatrist, and an expert in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and integrative medicine. He founded Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine, Tao Clinic of Acupuncture, and American Institute of Clinical Acupuncture. Dr. Yang co-authored two books: “Facing East: Ancient Health and Beauty Secrets for the Modern Age” and “Clinical Acupuncture and Ancient Chinese Medicine.”