Chinese medicine is fundamentally a preventive medicine. Since the cause of disease is within us, and can be known and understood, the concept of disease as a personal crisis in life becomes a more rational proposition. By studying the pulse, tongue, eye, and physiognomy, we can correct imbalance prior to the manifestation of overt disease. The attention of the patient may be brought to focus on how he is living, eating, thinking, drinking, sleeping, and believing, before his life is further encumbered by debilitating physical and mental illness. Medicine and life are one.

In Chinese medicine, a physician studies and treats the person and not the disease, whereas in the West, we treat the disease and not the person. The physician who uses a diagnosis made by means of Chinese pulses or other parameters is taking account of the inner state of the individual, in terms of energy balance in the body. Although there are special points and point formulas for specific kinds of symptoms, in the main each individual is treated for his own specific imbalance. In general, treatment is of the unique and whole person, not of alien signs and symptoms.

In Chinese medicine, there is a relative lack of distinction between body and mind: further evidence of the unity of medicine and life. They are one, and part of the same system. An imbalance of energy may show itself as a disturbance in the highest functions, or a disturbance in the so-called lower functions, or both. Corrective medicine concerns itself with a disturbance in the balance of energy, not whether the symptoms are emotional or physical. For this reason, if an emotional catharsis is what is called for, one may treat the Large Intestine channel, the great eliminator of the body.

The Large Intestine symbolizes elimination in all of its many senses, including the elimination of bad thoughts as well as bad energy (feces). Likewise, the Stomach digests food, but it also controls, and is involved with, the digestion of thoughts and feelings. In the case of the Small Intestine, while it separates the pure from the impure in food, it is also responsible for separating pure from impure thoughts. The pure it reabsorbs; the impure it passes on to the Large Intestine for elimination.

It is also possible to see correlations in the treatment of one kind of depression. In the Chinese system, the Wood phase is the purifier of the spirit-soul in the body. Allopathic medicine tells us that the Liver metabolizes and separates what the body considers toxic from what it considers safe, and then excretes that which it deems unsafe. (The Chinese knew this thousands of years ago, long before the existence of Western laboratory science.) Thus, in a situation in which a patient’s spirit is agitated and depressed simultaneously, one would look to the Wood phase for imbalance, and might treat depression by draining or supplying the Liver channel. In the theory and practice of Chinese medicine, the mind and body are one. This removal of boundaries elucidates a great number of conditions to which Western medicine has no answer.  

Western medicine has grappled with the idea of psychosomatics: the theory that there are disorders “whose etiology, at least in part, is believed to be related to emotional factors”. Psychosomatic illness was, originally, broadly classified into two categories. The first involved conditions that are symptomatic, and that consist of a patient’s subjective complaints, but that show no discernible signs: headache, dizziness, nausea, pain. (Signs, in contradiction to symptoms, are evident to a second person as well as to the patient: bulging eyes, facial pallor, a tense abdomen, wheezing, tremor.) The second group included illnesses with distinct signs as well as symptoms, however these conditions were unexplainable by Western pathology and so ascribed to an emotional etiology: asthma, colitis, unexplained fevers, thyroid disease, obesity, eczema, cancer, etc. Both groups had previously come under the scrutiny of psychoanalytic theoreticians and psychophysiological researchers, and had also become the objects of study, observation, and speculation by well-known physicians.

More recently, the field of psychoneuro-immunology has emerged. Here, attempts are being made to link the central nervous system centers, such as the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, to the autonomic nervous system, the hormonal system, the visceral organs, and, most recently, to the immune system. Increasingly, the relation of emotional stress to physical disease is being studied. The emerging data confirm, by scientifically acceptable experimental models, what has long been proposed by many. Nevertheless, this perspective has been largely ignored by the mainstream medical establishment.

If viewed from the perspective of the health-to-disease spectrum, conditions that only show symptoms would fall toward the health end of the spectrum, where there are no signs of disease by Western standards. Illnesses where signs are already discernible would tend to fall more toward the disease end of the spectrum, although still well within the domain of energy considerations. At the health end we have disorders of function, and at the disease end, disorders of morphology.

There is a gradual progression from functional disorders, or distorted energy states, to detectable organic tissue damage. However, Western medicine has remained completely unaware of, and unaffected by, the energy-based physiology and pathology of Oriental medicine, and is thus unable to detect or classify disease in its incipient and developing stages. Despite new research, whatever escapes the dragnet of morphologically-oriented Western diagnosis or pathological theory currently finds itself subsumed under the category of psychosomatic medicine.

However, Chinese medical physiology provides us with the tools to explain the relationships between psyche and soma, and is quite willing to accept that such connections exist. Working from the health end of the spectrum, any act by man or nature which interferes with the quantity, circulation, or rhythmic balance of the life force (life energy) will lead in the direction of disease, and toward the death end of the spectrum. The active factors may include constitution, eating habits, work habits, environmental stress (e.g. chemical pollution), weather and climate, sexual habits, social milieu (including drugs, poisons, epidemiological diseases), and perhaps the most central to the Chinese medical system, emotion, or the ‘seven passions’. Using the modalities of Chinese diagnosis – particularly the pulse, the tongue, the eyes, and facial color – one can measure how these different aspects of daily life may be adversely affecting the integrity of the energy systems: both before symptoms even develop and, more certainly, after early symptoms have begun to manifest. The focus is on health, on the patient in everyday life, and on prevention.

A concentration of these signs at the health end of the spectrum may encompass and explain most of the early signs and symptoms of the disease process: the ones which do not fall within the purview of Western diagnostic techniques at the disease-death end of the spectrum. It is possible to identify and treat, through early diagnosis, much of what has been confusingly alluded to as ‘somatoform disorders,’ defined as “Physical symptoms suggesting physical disorder for which there are no demonstrable organic findings or no physiological mechanisms.” At the point where an illness might be referred to as being ‘somatoform’, very real physiological changes are taking place, and pathology does exist. However, these are physiological alterations of the life force – of energy rather than morphology – and the disharmony is limited to the energy system. However, it is disclosed by the color, sound, pulse, and tongue of the individual. Depending on one’s definition of reality, observable and measurable changes do occur. Some, but by no means all, of these changes may be due to emotional stress, and at this early stage they can be differentiated from the other etiological factors mentioned above. Disease, from this point of view, is a progression from ‘energy’ to ‘matter’.

The fact is that this process is both psychological and somatic at all stages. Changes in color, sound, odor, pulse, tongue, and eyes are there from the beginning, and psychological factors are there until death.

Health, by definition, is a condition in which all systems within the microorganism are harmoniously interlocked with each other, and in dynamic consonance with nature. Focusing on health, and engaging the concept of energy as the basic issue of health, disease, life, and death means viewing these phenomena as part of a single universal substrate, in which all phenomena are but diverse expressions of its infinity and unity. Because Chinese medicine is grounded in unity, it is oriented toward finding relationships and correspondences in nature. In this way it seeks to find, and to offer, a true path to health for its patients.