Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine are forms of medicine originally from China and India, respectively, with cultural histories dating back between 2000 and 5000 years depending on the particular philosophy or medical practice.
Both TCM and Ayurveda are seen as alternatives to Western medicine that take a more holistic and preventative approach to health. TCM and Ayurveda have found a place in Vancouver where they are both practiced and taught with patients and students as diverse in age and ethnicity as the city itself.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Dr. Mee Lain Ling is a registered doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. She has been gaining knowledge and researching TCM since she taught English in China in the late 1990s, and has been formally practicing full-time since acquiring her degree in TCM in 2011.
Dr. Ling notes that TCM tends to be more holistic and preventative in nature than Western medicine, but that it has, similarly to Western medicine, changed and adapted over the years.
“There is a lot of culture and philosophy behind [TCM]. It has a lot of ritual practices behind it that have been adapted over the years, some of which have been lost, while others are coming back,” says Dr. Ling.
There are four branches of Chinese medicine: acupuncture, herbology and herbal medicine, medical massage, and medical qigong. Dr. Ling describes qigong, the oldest of the four branches, as a kind of meditative practice that can be offered by a practitioner or taught to patients themselves.
“We have very specific types of movements, visualizations and hand motions that have particular meaning and function,” says Dr. Ling. “It’s a really wonderful way to receive a treatment that is just as powerful [as acupuncture], especially when people don’t like needles.”
For Dr. Ling, qigong is at the core of holism in TCM.
“One can feel it not only on the physical, but also on an emotional and spiritual level. There is a real emphasis on all three energetic bodies,” Dr. Ling says. “Not just the physical, but the emotional and spiritual bodies as well, and that’s where the concept of holism and holistic medicine comes from.”
Though Dr. Ling notes that many of her patients are of South Asian descent, the demographic of her patients is very broad, both in age and ethnicity.
“I’m very fortunate to have a diverse population group from infants to people in their seventies, and in terms of culture it’s very broad. It’s not limited to a particular demographic group,” says Dr. Ling.
Though she encourages a more holistic approach to medicine, Dr. Ling says what is most important for a patient is following their own belief of what is best for them.
“I really encourage people to follow what their heart is telling them, to give them the freedom, rather than take a “Doctor is God” approach,” says Dr. Ling.
Ayurvedic medicine has been used in India for more than 5000 years, and as with TCM, there is a focus on holistic health. Matthew Gindin R.Ac, Ay.C, acupuncturist and Ayurvedic counsellor, was a Buddhist monk for a number of years in India where he was first exposed to Ayurveda and spiritual practices. When it comes to Ayurveda, Gindin notes that the holistic aspect comes very much from assessing each person individually.
“One of the key principles of Ayurveda is that everything in your life is potentially medicinal,” says Gindin. “Everything that you attract in your life is potentially helpful or harmful. As a result, absolutely everything can be medicine, from what you’re surrounding yourself with, to the media you consume, to your exercises and diet.”
Ayurvedic medicine is based around “doshas” that manifest as combinations of the five elements in nature (space, air, fire, water and earth), and are tied to specific bodily functions and emotions. For example, the dosha “Pitta” represents fire and water and controls digestion and metabolism (among other things) and is tied to anger and jealousy.
Gindin says that generalized health advice is hard to give from an Ayurvedic perspective, since health is based on an individual person’s dosha balance. However, in terms of general advice that Ayurveda does provide, there is a strong emphasis on the proper functioning of the digestive system.
“You should feel like you digest things well, that you’re comfortable and happy after you eat. You shouldn’t feel bogged down, sluggish, gassy, tired, or like you have heartburn. Your digestive health is very predictive of your general health,” says Gindin.
To gain a more holistic view of your health, Gindin encourages consulting both Ayurvedic and Western medicine, as well as other kinds of alternative medicine, to maintain your health and well-being. There are benefits and limitations to both Western and Ayurvedic medicine and practices.
“I would definitely say you should see a mainstream doctor as well, to get a more holistic perspective,” says Gindin. “If you combine the Ayurvedic perspective with the mainstream perspective you’re simply increasing the amount of knowledge you have.”
Gindin notes he incorporates various Eastern medicine and spirituality studies not only into his Ayurvedic teachings and practice, but also into his own life, and in his heritage of Jewish teachings.
“I’m still very much involved in the Jewish community, teaching at Hebrew school, lecturing in synagogues, and in teaching Jewish meditation as well,” says Gindin.
From Gindin’s holistic standpoint, it is important to gain knowledge and perspective from other cultures, and to incorporate it into your own life and practices.