Health is more than just the absence of disease. Health is a state of balance within your body, with an adequate reserve of energy and resources so that you can thrive.
Balance is the key to health in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is important to have a balance between work and exercise, a balanced diet, a balance in sexual activity, a balance in exposure to climate, and a balance of emotions.
In Chinese Medicine theory, there is a constant dynamic interplay between the internal defenses of our bodies and the pathogenic influences which are constantly trying to invade and weaken our strength. It is only when the relative strength of the pathogen is greater than our resistance to it that we fall ill. There are three categories of things which can make us sick in TCM – internal causes, external causes, and so-called “other” causes.
Internal causes of disease are our emotions. The holistic view of the body is that we are a mind-body continuum, and that our mental state can directly influence our physical state. When our emotions are particularly strong, or if they are long-lasting, they can begin to affect our physical bodies. In Chinese Medicine theory, states of emotion can be a cause of (and a symptom of) organ imbalance.
Anger is said to make the Qi rise (seeing red, or the bulging of the temporal artery). Sadness dissolves the Qi (consuming our energy in times of grief). Joy slows Qi down (living in the moment when happy). Anxiety knots the Qi (abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite when worried). Fear makes Qi descend (cold sweat running down our backs). Shock scatters the Qi (fainting when we receive upsetting news).
The external causes of disease in TCM literally refer to environmental factors around us. Under normal circumstances, the weather will have no pathological effect on our bodies. However, when the weather becomes unseasonably excessive, or when the body is weak in relation to climatic factors, illness can be the result. This explains the man who knows it is about to rain because his arthritis acts up, for example.
The six external causes of disease are wind, cold, dampness, dryness, fire, and summer-heat. They can attack the body separately or simultaneously with two or more in combination. The word “invasion” is used to describe how they enter the body, which is through the skin, nose, mouth, or through all three. Cold can also directly attack the Large Intestine, the Stomach, and the Uterus.
There are additional pathogens in TCM theory, which are collectively referred to as the “other causes of disease“. An individual’s constitution, or their genetic predisposition, can be a major influence on their health. A poor diet is probably the most influential and under-rated cause of disease. Fatigue, over-exertion, and excessive sexual activity are other causes of disease as they weaken our defenses. Trauma is sometimes unavoidable but represents a cause of injury to our bodies. Epidemics can cause illness, where large portions of the population fall ill to the same disease. Parasites and poisons can also negatively impact our health. Finally, a wrong treatment strategy in Chinese Medicine or BioMedicine is also considered to be a cause of disease.