The ancient traditions of Eastern medicine have developed over many centuries. While there are differences between them in terms of methods of diagnosis and treatment, they all have the same basic philosophy. This has its foundation in a belief that the body is controlled by energy, and not by anatomy or physiology as it is in the Western tradition. The human body is seen as a microcosm of the universe, governed by the same energy and the same five elements. This energy or life force flows through the body in channels or meridians and ill-health is a disruption of this energy flow. The body, like the universe, is made up of five elements through which cosmic energy is manifested: ether, earth, water, fire and air in Ayurvedic medicine, and earth, wood, metal, fire and water in Chinese medicine.

In Chinese medicine there is an emphasis on balancing the life force, known as Qi or chi. Good health is maintained when the opposing principles of the chi, called Yin and Yang are in balance. Ill-health is seen as a disturbance of this balance, or disharmony, so that the life force cannot flow freely through the body. Treatment is aimed at strengthening Yin or Yang or eliminating excess Yin or Yang. This is done by various methods, from making lifestyle changes via nutrition, diet, exercise and meditation, to herbal remedies and bodywork which includes manipulation and acupuncture/acupressure.

Medicinal herbs are a small part of Oriental medicine and vary depending on the plants grown in the area. Thai and Vietnamese medicine, for example, differ from Cambodian or Tibetan in the plants used, although the underlying belief system is similar. The Chinese use a different meridian chart from the Tibetan one, which follows much more closely the routes travelled by nerves.

Like Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese, Tibetan and Oriental medicine should be considered only if a total lifestyle change is possible and acceptable because these disciplines do not have a ‘quick-fix’ answer.