The following is an excerpt from my book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health. The point of this post is that in order to be treated successfully for any condition, your practitioner—Eastern or Western—must determine what is actually causing the problem.
If you visit a practitioner of Chinese medicine for a specific symptom, you might be surprised to be asked all kinds of questions that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with your symptom. In fact, you may become impatient as your practitioner asks you about your bowel movements when you are there to be treated for acne. However, for your practitioner to arrive at an accurate diagnosis, he or she must have a complete picture of your internal makeup. Your symptom is simply a manifestation of an imbalance, and to treat it correctly your practitioner will put that symptom into the context of a pattern in order to treat the source of the imbalance.
It is interesting that a single symptom can be a manifestation of very different patterns in different people. For example, three people may come to my office wanting to be treated for insomnia. The first, a busy executive, explains that he has difficulty falling asleep because his mind is racing when he goes to bed. He shares that he frequently feels stressed by his job, and when he gets home, he’s irritable with his family. He says he feels thirsty, and his face appears red. This man would be diagnosed with a pattern called a stagnation of Liver energy, which is causing heat and restlessness.
The second person to be treated for insomnia is a smallish woman who is about fifty years old. She reports that while she can fall asleep at night, she wakes about 3:00 a.m. with night sweats and has difficulty getting back to sleep. She also complains that she has a chronic dull ache in her lower back and that her knees feel weak. Her face is pale, but her cheeks are red. This woman’s insomnia is due to a pattern of depleted Kidney Yin.
The third person with insomnia is a woman in her thirties, who had surgery about six months ago for appendicitis. She complains that her sleep is restless all night long, and she wakes frequently. She also has heart palpitations, occasional dizziness, dry skin and brittle nails. Her face looks pale and drawn. This woman’s sleep problem is caused by a depletion of Blood.
All three of these people would be diagnosed with insomnia in Western biomedicine, and would most likely be prescribed a sleep aid. However, in the Chinese medical model, the only thing these three people have in common is that their imbalance is manifesting as insomnia. For each, the underlying cause of their insomnia is different from the others, and each would be treated with acupuncture and herbal prescriptions unique to the particular imbalance.