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Understanding Basic TCM Terms

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Understanding Basic TCM Terms

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient art of healing and an increasingly accepted practice around the world. Rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism, TCM dates back to more than 2,500 years ago.

Here is a quick guide on the meanings behind commonly used TCM words.

Five Elements

The 5 elements are: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each has a specific characteristic as illustrated below:

Qi

A person’s vital life force, it is the source of energy flow in one’s body. If the qi is up and running, everything is in harmony. If the qi is weak or imbalance, illness and disease will occur.

Meridian Systems

The body has 12 principal meridian channels, and its primary focus is to carry and distribute qi, body fluids and blood to every part of the body. Meridians do not have anatomical structures. Along these 12 channels, lie acupoints. There are approximately 365 acupuncture points. Each point belongs to a particular meridian channel that connects to specific organs.

Yin vs. Yang

TCM considers the world as a single unit and its movement gives rise to yin and yang. The two opposing yet interdependent forces must maintain balance, and one cannot dominate the other. It is a concept used to diagnose patterns of disharmony and determine treatments to restore balance.

The 5 Organs & their roles

The Liver System

Role: Regulates the qi movement throughout the body.

Function: The Liver stores sufficient blood, boosts the digestive functions of the Spleen, nourishes the eyes from blood stored in the Liver and ensures proper movement of tendons preventing symptoms like spasms, numbness of limbs and difficulty bending or stretching.

The Spleen System

Role: Assists with digestion, and governs blood flow and fluid metabolism in the body.

Function: Transform food into essence used for qi and blood transformation. Our spleen’s health is reflected in lips, mouth and movement of the limbs and muscles.

The Lung System

Role: Regulars qi movement necessary for blood circulation, fluid metabolism, the autonomic nervous system and the immune system.

Function: Controls the circulation of qi and blood to moisten skin and body hair. When these functions are weakened, skin and hair become dull, rough and dry.

The Heart System

Role: Regulates the cardiovascular system while maintaining the nervous system’s functions. Qi from a health heart maintains an efficient blood flow in the blood vessels.

Function: The heart stores the “spirit”, an individual’s vitality. This ensures optimum mental, cognitive and intellectual abilities.

The Kidney System

Role: Regulates the urinary system, and controls the reproductive and nervous systems.

Function: The kidney stores ‘Jing’, an essential substance for bone growth, closely associated with life. Dental problems, hair loss, immature hair greying, hearing problems and urinary tract disorders are all signs of disharmony in the kidney system.

Acupuncture

It is a physical treatment that uses hair-thin needles at specific points on the body. Acupuncture helps to restore balance, clear blockage within the meridians and strengthens qi. It is commonly used in pain management, arthritis, depression, allergic rhinitis and other health issues.

Cupping

It is a physical treatment that uses glass or bamboo cups that are warmed to create a partial vacuum, so that a suction force can be created on the skin’s surface. Cupping helps to activate the lymphatic system promote blood circulation and aid deep tissue repair.

Tuina

It is a combination of massage, acupressure and other forms of body manipulation by applying pressure to acupoints, Meridians and groups of muscles or nerves to remove blockages that prevent the free flow or circulation of qi and blood.


Related Articles

6 Signs of Sub Health

A person who has mild symptoms such as a dry mouth or a runny nose can still be unhealthy from a TCM perspective, even without suffering from the usual illnesses like fever or flu. Find out what it means to have sub-health and know some warning signs.

“Sub-health is imbalance in the body that has not developed into an illness yet,” explains Physician Lin Jiayi, who is based at the Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic at Serangoon Nex.

“A person who has sub-health can just feel uncomfortable. If she goes to a hospital to do a check-up, she would not be diagnosed with a disease.” This is because Western medicine tends to identify illness by the presence of specific pathogens.

However, TCM evaluates health by observing the overall state of the body. While sub-health usually does not cause major discomfort, it indicates an imbalance in the body that might lead to more serious conditions or illness. That is why TCM physicians advise that one should monitor one’s health for symptoms of sub-health.

What causes sub-health?

Imbalance in the organ systems is the most common cause of sub-health.

In TCM, one’s well-being is dependent on the harmonious relationships between five major organs— the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs and Kidneys. In TCM, each organ is a system of functions that is not limited to the functions of the anatomical organs. For example, the Heart is thought to influence the Blood as well as the emotions. The organs also have interdependent relationships with each other: the Heart supports the Spleen, while the Spleen is restricted by the Liver.

Sub-health can be the result of issues in a specific organ or, more typically, issues that affect more than one organ. “When it comes to sub-health, normally more than one organ is causing the problem,” Physician Lin notes.

Common Signs of Sub-health

Signs of sub-health can be easy to overlook. Be aware of these common symptoms.

Sign 1: Insomnia

Possible cause: A common cause of sleeping difficulties is Heart fire — too much Yang or too little Yin in the Heart system. This leads to an excess of heat that disturbs the mind and body. According to Physician Lin, Heart fire often occurs together with Liver fire because the two organs have a close functional relationship.

Sign 2: Irritability

Possible cause: The feeling of being irritated or stressed might be caused by stagnation of Liver Qi, meaning the flow of Qi through the Liver has been impeded. This prevents the Liver from effectively carrying out its functions, which include the regulation of emotions.

Sign 3: Runny nose in the morning

Possible cause: A runny nose or sneezing in the morning may indicate a deficiency in Lung Qi. Other symptoms of deficient Lung Qi include shortness of breath, being susceptible to flu and sweating easily.

Sign 4: Constipation

Possible cause: Deficiency in the Spleen can cause difficulty with bowel movements. Spleen deficiency may also lead to other digestive issues such as bloating and gastric pain. “Many people have deficient Spleen Qi because of their lifestyle,” reveals Physician Lin. “They consume too much junk food and cold drinks, and eat at irregular intervals.”

Sign 5: Frequent urination

Possible cause: A need to pee more frequently, especially at night, might be caused by a deficiency in the Kidney system. Another sign of Kidney deficiency is lower back pain.

Sign 6: Hair loss

Possible cause: Hair loss is often caused by a deficiency in the Kidney and Liver systems. These organs govern the Blood and nourishment of the body, and are closely linked.

Simple remedies for sub-health

To restore a person’s balance, a physician may recommend treatments or diet and lifestyle changes that target specific organs. Here are some possible remedies:

  • For conditions caused by Heart fire: Drink cooling teas such as Chrysanthemum and Lophatherum Herb (Danzhuye, 淡竹叶). It also helps to go to bed earlier.

  • For conditions caused by Kidney and Liver deficiency: Take Fleeceflower Root (Heshouwu, 何首乌) which works on the Liver, Kidneys, and Blood.

  • For conditions caused by weak Spleen: Avoid cold food, cooling food, and raw food.

  • Do not overeat and have meals at regular intervals.

From the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, your body constitution can be broadly categorized into 10 types. In this one-to-one personal session with the physician, you can find out about your current dominant body constitution. Getting to know one’s body constitution is the first important step towards taking control of your own health. Eu Yan Sang TCM Health Constitution Report includes lifestyle-changing tips and simple recipes that can benefit your particular body. Let the physician be your personal guide to nurse yourself back to optimal wellness.

Eu Yan Sang TCM Health (Body Constitution) Report

At just $48*, Eu Yan Sang’s Comprehensive TCM Health Report includes:

  • One-to-one detailed consultation with Eu Yan Sang’s qualified TCM Physicians

  • Diagnosis of your dominant body constitution

  • 13-pager comprehensive report in both English and Mandarin

  • TCM-based lifestyle recommendations to regain balance

*Additional consultation charge applies at our TCM Centre and Premier TCM Centre, prevailing GST applies.

Post-Treatment Care Guide

Acupuncture and cupping are common techniques used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to address a wide range of health conditions. It is vital to take proper care of yourself after undergoing acupuncture/cupping/scraping treatment. 

To optimise the benefits of your acupuncture or cupping session and minimise potential side effects, follow these essential aftercare guidelines:

1. Rest and Unwind:

After your session, prioritize relaxation and avoid strenuous activities, exercise, or heavy lifting for at least 24 hours. Intense activities may interfere with the therapeutic effects of the treatment.

2. Hydration is Key:

Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of warm water post-session. This aids in flushing out toxins and rehydrating your muscles and tissues.

3. Keep Warm:

Cover treated areas or dress warmly to support your body's healing process. When necessary, consider warm compresses for pain relief, and avoid drafts, exposure to direct wind, or cold temperatures. Cupping opens pores and channels, making the body susceptible to external elements like wind and cold. 

4. Mind Your Diet:

Refrain from dairy, processed meats, sugary foods, alcoholic beverages, and caffeine for at least 24 hours post-treatment, as they may hinder the healing process.

5. Monitor Symptoms:

Be aware of the benefits, side effects, and overall experience. Your feedback is valuable for both you and your practitioner.

6. Self-Care Practices:

Incorporate self-care activities such as meditation, gentle stretching, and deep breathing exercises into your daily routine to sustain the advantages of your session.

7. No Swimming for the Day:

Avoid swimming for the remainder of the day to prevent dampness and getting chilled, which can counteract the benefits of the session.

8. Steer Clear of Hot Therapies:

Avoid hot showers, saunas, and hot tubs after treatment, as they may exacerbate inflammation or bruising.

9. Sun Protection:

Refrain from direct sun exposure for 24 hours post-treatment, as your skin may be more sensitive and prone to sunburn.

10. Avoid Driving if Lightheaded:

If you feel lightheaded or giddy, refrain from driving. Rest until you feel better or let someone else take the wheel.


As with any medical treatment, acupuncture and cupping may have some potential side effects. Here are some possible side effects to be aware of:

  • Soreness or Bruising: Mild soreness or bruising at the treatment site, which should subside within a few days. 

(Note: The cupping marks are the results of stagnation which can include dead blood cells, old lymph fluid, and toxins that the body has not been able to eliminate via its circulatory system. )

  • Dizziness or Light-Headedness: Some may experience dizziness or light-headedness during or after treatment. It is a temporary sensation due to changes in blood pressure or circulation.

  • Fatigue and Drowsiness: Normal response as treatments stimulate the nervous system and promote relaxation.

  • Minor Bleeding: Acupuncture needles may cause minor bleeding, especially on acupoints on the head/face as many capillaries lie below the skin of the face. Cupping may cause skin irritation or even blisters.

  • Emotional Release:  Treatments like acupuncture and cupping can sometimes trigger an emotional release like emotional, tearful, or overwhelmed. This is a normal response to the stimulation of certain points in the body and can be an important aspect of the healing process.

We encourage you to embrace these aftercare guidelines for a holistic and effective recovery. If you experience any concerns, reach out to our physicians for support. Your well-being is our priority.

Basic TCM Concepts

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, is one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine, with a history of more than 2,500 years. It is the essence of Chinese history, philosophy and medical knowledge. It is still the main form of medicine to many Chinese today.

With more research being done, and greater worldwide interest in natural products, TCM is increasingly recognised as a viable form of alternative medicine in other parts of the world.

One important perspective of TCM concerns the balance of the body (形,Xing) and mind (神,Shen). A healthy body forms a firm foundation for a healthy mind, which includes one’s thoughts, emotions and psychological state.

In short, TCM does not manage the illness alone, but the person with the illness. This medical approach is built upon the concepts of Zang Xiang, Yin Yang and the Five Elements.

Zang Xiang 藏相

Zang Xiang literally means the external manifestations of the health condition or status of our internal organs.

Zang Xiang forms the basic principle of most TCM diagnoses. By examining the symptoms displayed at superficial level, the root causes of the illnesses in the body can be nailed down; the principle of treatment can be derived and administered accordingly.

Zang refers to the interior location of the Zang-fu(脏腑)organs; while Xiang refers to their external appearance or symptoms.

Zang-fu covers the five Zang organs (the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs and Kidneys) and six Fu organs (the Gall bladder, Stomach, Bladder, Large Intestines, Small Intestines and Triple Energizer).

Triple Energizer (三焦,San Jiao) refers to the upper (region above diaphragm), middle (region in between diaphragm and belly button) and lower (region below belly button) parts of the body, and its most important function is to govern water metabolism.

Yin Yang 阴阳

Everything in the universe exists as two opposing yet interdependent forces – Yin and Yang. They are two opposites of a whole which cannot exist without each other. Yin literally represents the “shady or dormant” aspect (e.g. water, dark, cold, night, passive, female) while Yang refers to the “sunny or active” aspect (e.g. fire, bright, hot, day, active, male).

In TCM, the Yin Yang concept is applied to understand the complex interconnections and constant changes in the human body. TCM views the human body as an integrated whole, where all organs and systems are interconnected and interdependent of each other. Generally, when Yin and Yang are in balance, our body is healthy; but if one force dominates the other, pain and illness will arise. TCM uses the Yin Yang concept to diagnose patterns of disharmony and determine treatments to restore balance.

Five Elements 五行

The Five Elements consist of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each represents different properties, functions or appearances under which all things in the universe can be classified. This concept is used to describe interactions and relationships between all natural phenomena.

The Five Elements interact with one another in two cycles, mainly the enhancing and destructive cycle. In the enhancing cycle, each elemental phase is assisting one another by boosting their ability to transform, whereas the destructive cycle exerts its effect by keeping each elemental phase under control to ensure balance and harmony.

In TCM, balance between generation and control is important for health maintenance.

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