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The Meaning of Holism in Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Western medicine, the body is looked at as individual parts, and sickness is treated rather than prevented. On a larger scale, Western thinking sees everything as separate entities operating on the same plane. Each person is born, lives, and dies separate from every other person. Trees grow, birds sing, the wind blows – none of these are connected on any deep level with the other, except on a superficial level. Not so in traditional Chinese medicine.

Holism is a basic principle of the philosophy.

Everything is interdependent. You may have heart problems because one of your vertebrae is out of line. Kidneys may not function properly because you have a nerve pinched somewhere. It’s the same on a global scale. Life is sort of like dropping a pebble into a stream. The water is running in coursing in one directions, disrupted on the bottom because of the placement of each different stone, but fairly smooth on the top.

Until you drop the pebble in.

The pebble creates a disruption that sends out ripples in all directions. On top of the water, you see the ripple. Underneath, the rock drops and hits the bottom. It may displace other stones, which then displace others and change the way the stream flows across the bottom. One little change can alter everything.

This is the summation of holism – nothing is separate.

Everything works together in a symbiotic way in order to create a functioning (or dysfunctional) whole. If you’re supposed to meet your significant other at the market, but one of you change your mind or something prevents you from getting there, there’s a drastic difference in the end result. Not just for you, but for other people as well. Perhaps you would have smiled at a lady who was just hanging on by a thread. Maybe the three dollars you would have spent on a hot-dog was the difference between the vendor having enough money to take a cab home and walking, which would have kept him from meeting his true love at the coffee shop a block from his house.

Such is the theory of Chinese medicine: there is no individual that operates as single entity. Not your kidneys lungs and heart. Not you, your neighbor, or the person living in a land far away, and not your body, your mind and your spirit; all are integral parts of a whole.

It is because of this interconnection that we are able to find those who are like us. We have a certain magnitude; a level of vibration at which those who are like us resonate. Our bodies, souls, and spirits work together to unify us as a whole being that operates and is part of a larger world.

The Three Philosophical Elements

Chinese medicine breaks this all-encompassing philosophy down into 3 elements that address the whole. These elements interact with each other in a manner that leads to the good and to the development of the individual and of the universe.


Chi is your life force. It is what makes you who you are as a body, as a mind, and as a spirit. It’s found throughout the universe and each and every living being has its own chi. In people, each of the 5 internal organs has its own chi. There are actually 12 channels that chi flows through and if any of those channels is blocked it can lead to serious peril of health and wellness, both physical and spiritual.

Not only do we have these different channels, they are all interdependent. They communicate with one another in order to maintain health and balance. If one is blocked, it’s almost impossible to achieve health and wellness throughout the rest of your body or spirit, and the universe as a whole.

Blocked chi leads to lack of wellness because if one channel is closed, it disrupts the flow of energy from one part of your body and mind to the other. Think of it as an electrical cord with a short in it: it can’t work well past the point that has the damage. So it is with chi.

Yin and Yang

You’ve surely seen the circle with the swirl of black and white, with a white dot in the black, and a white dot in the black. This is the representation of good versus evil, dark versus light.

The dark, of course, represents the darkness. Do not assume that this is a bad thing. Indeed, it’s a necessary thing because without darkness, there couldn’t be light, and vice versa. That is what the spots represent – the utter absence of one without the other. There is no all-good or all-evil, or all-light or all-dark. They are interconnected and can’t exist without the other.

Yin and Yang work together to achieve a state of equilibrium. They affect everything from the inner health and wellness of your body to the very seasons that rule the planet.

Yin and Yang are not to be taken lightly – if one outweighs the other, illness and madness prevail. Your organs can’t work cohesively, and your body becomes out of tune with the universe. In your body, ying has an affinity with blood and yang has an affinity with chi. They are not opposites as many would have you believe, but rather counterbalances that work together to achieve harmony within your body and with the universe.

What are the Five Elements?

We discussed the 5 elements in general terms earlier, but now it’s time to address how they affect the goings-on of your body in relation to the universe that you live in.

The elements may seem separate but they are closely connected and interwoven. They are earth, fire, water, wood, and metal. These are all part of the planet and of the universe that we live in and, just like yin and yang, if they are out of balance, so is everything else.

Not only are they connected, they also have a natural order.

Metal overcomes wood, water overcomes fire, wood overcomes earth, fire overcomes metal, and earth overcomes water. They are also part of the four seasons. Spring is attached to wood, summer is attached to fire, late summer to earth, fall to metal, and winter to water. They’re all part of nature, and therefore part of us.

There’s also a connection between the elements and the organs: wood is attached to the liver, earth to the spleen, kidneys to water, lungs to metal. Therefore, if even one of the elements falls out of balance, so too must everything else, at least after a while.

It is with all of this that Chinese medicine is concerned. The bottom line is that if you channels aren’t all open so that chi can flow naturally, and if the elements can’t flow freely throughout your body, and if you’re not in tune to the elements, illness will follow.

That seems like a lot of “ifs” but it’s true.

When you’re out of balance, your job is to restore that balance in order to stay healthy. Some things that can’t hurt the physical can still most assuredly harm your health. However, even if pathogenic factors such as physical or emotional wellness is at stake, it’s rarely too late to give up; it’s more of an opportunity to learn.

The bottom line, and the point of this entire article, is to press upon you the importance of maintaining balance. What’s your plan if your health is attacked? Whatever it is, you need to set it up so that there are no pathogenic episodes. You shouldn’t feel helpless because that’s when hope truly dies.

Do you have anything to add to this? If so, please share in the comments section below.

You may also want to read: Holistic Medicine

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