Traditional Chinese medicine pioneered the science of today’s wellness programs.
Wellness in all its forms has seeped into the public consciousness. In fact, it’s become a buzzword for healthful products and services from skin care to trendy exercise packages, spa treatments, diets, holistic health treatments, vacations, and medications—all aimed at improving and augmenting our lives.
In the insurance industry and within the walls of corporate America, wellness programs are now woven into the fabric of employer-based health plans. Some are rewarding employers and employees with incentive-based programs that use biometrics to measure health risk factors and keep employees healthy and productive. The goal is to create a positive affect on the nation’s bottom line through increased productivity and lower healthcare costs.
Some components of these wellness programs include diet, exercise, and lifestyle coaching and counseling. These can be monitored and adjusted based on blood draws, blood-pressure readings, and activity-measuring devices such as pedometers and heart-rate monitors that feed directly into online health-tracking websites. These programs are highly incentivized by employers, and the competition for slices of the wellness pie is fierce, with an entire industry of consultants, designers, and managers vying for the lion’s share.
With technology assisting in the tracking and accountability of wellness plans and programs, people also yearn for effective therapies and systems that empower them to take control of their own health and well-being.
Much of the current movement towards wellness is also driven by consumers who are tired of having to rely on a doctor or healthcare system such as an HMO for their well-being. The current medical model of healthcare needs to shift focus toward achieving better health and maintaining overall wellness and disease prevention, rather than restoring health after an individual becomes hurt or ill, according to the American Hospital Association.1
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), also known as Traditional East Asian medicine (TEAM), may have been the first example of what is today considered to be a “wellness program.” To illustrate, consider the scope of practice of today’s licensed acupuncturists, which varies from state to state along with licensure requirements.
In California, the scope of practice of a licensed acupuncturist as defined by the California Acupuncture Board includes acupuncture; Oriental massage; acupressure; breathing techniques; exercise; hot and cold therapy; magnets; nutrition; diet; herbal, botanical, animal, and mineral products; and dietary supplements to promote, maintain, and restore health. Each of these elements has rich traditions that can be traced back through the classic texts of Chinese medicine.
Traditionally, acupuncture practitioners of yore would also incorporate bone setting as part of their treatment protocol. In today’s environment, bone setting has evolved into chiropractic care and has grown into its own vital system of healthcare. The two professions work extremely well side-by-side for patient care. You often see acupuncturists and chiropractors working together in shared offices, or at the very least the two professions have developed a well-established cross-referral relationship in most parts of the country with licensure available for both.
When a patient seeks to include acupuncture as part of his or her wellness program, an acupuncturist will first conduct an extensive intake including a thorough health history while engaging with the patient through the diagnostic process.
This process includes observation, auscultation, interviewing, palpation, and examination, which allows the practitioner to form a picture of the patient and treat him or her according to the pattern of disharmony formed after evaluating the information gathered. This approach allows the practitioner to view each individual as unique and expansive as compared to a more reductionist and Cartesian view of a patient from a pathological perspective.
Once the pattern of disharmony has been unfolded like a mystery, only then will a treatment plan, which may include any of the above-mentioned tools in the scope of practice, be employed. Treatment modalities selected are based upon a patient’s level of readiness for participation. For example: Some patients may choose to have only acupuncture, while others may want to learn tai chi or qi gong (traditional forms of Chinese therapeutic exercise).
Other patients may be open to brewing a traditional Chinese herbal formula and incorporating therapeutic massage into their programs. Many combinations of therapeutic modalities within scope may be employed to work in concert and form an individualized wellness regimen. Some techniques may be performed by the practitioner, while others may be taught to patients and empower them to take control of their healthcare.
One example of empowerment through TCM is in the method of teaching patients about nutrition. Patients are encouraged to eat according to the seasons and incorporate whole, nutrient-dense foods, which are rich with qi, (pronounced “chee,” meaning “life force”).
A diet devoid of cold, damp foods (e.g., ice cream, iced drinks, or even salads in some cases), which inhibit the digestive process, is adopted. Patients are urged to incorporate warming and easily assimilated foods.
In TCM, it is said that digestion likes warmth, dryness, and regular meals at regular times. Emphasis is placed on eating at the same time each day, the same amounts of foods, chewing appropriately in a relaxed fashion, and allowing the food to digest before resuming activity.
Other resources in the TCM wellness toolkit are breathing techniques and exercise, if allowed by the scope of practice. In Chinese therapeutic exercises such as tai chi and qi gong, breath work is combined with physical movement and mental imagery to produce therapeutic results.
If we reflect upon today’s wellness programs such as yoga, Pilates, massage, and diets, we see elements of what was being performed thousands of years ago in ancient China, now repackaged and modified to fit today’s modern world.
Greg Lane, LAc, Dipl Ac, MTOM, is the director of clinical services for the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego. He is nationally certified through the Commission for acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He has been in private practice for 20 years focusing on women’s health, orthopedics, pain management, and drug and alcohol detoxification.
1 American Hospital Association. “Healthy People are the Foundation for a Productive America.” TrendWatch. http://www.aha.org/aha/trendwatch/2007/twoct2007health.pdf. Published October 2007. Accessed Dec. 1, 2014.