Philosophy behind Oriental Medicine

Philosophy behind Oriental Medicine

The philosophy underlying most forms of Shiatsu comes from Taoism.

The Western viewpoint is that things, if left to their own devices, will get more chaotic. Taoism explores the way in which some systems naturally start to re-balance themselves when they move away from equilibrium.

The Western viewpoint is largely true for simple non-living systems, but living organisms are good at adjusting themselves, and therefore are better described by Taoist philosophy.

Western medicine focuses on intervention to push an organism back into balance. In contrast, Oriental medicine believes that by helping the organism to activate its capacity for self-balancing, the body will naturally find equilibrium. From this viewpoint, problems occur when the natural process is not working and so you are stuck in the imbalanced state.

‘Treatment’ in Oriental Medicine is therefore treatment of the body’s self-balancing systems, which the Japanese call Ki (in Chinese it is called Chi). The closest analogy in Western terms would be if doctors had a way of boosting the immune system instead of giving antibiotics. Shiatsu and other Oriental therapies focus on getting these Ki systems moving when they are stuck and boosting them when they are weak. Then the natural process of re-adjustment will start to work again.

So it is possible that Shiatsu treatment may slightly increase the symptoms in the short-term, going further into the condition, until the body has satisfied or exhausted this way of behaving and can start to transform of its own accord. The effect of this ‘natural transformation’ is believed to be more permanent than ‘transformation through intervention’ because the problem has completed it’s journey and is not just pushed under the carpet, waiting to reappear.

To be fair, most Western doctors believe the same thing. They are often reluctant to give antibiotics to children because they know that if they leave the child to get better naturally, it will strengthen the immune system and the child will be less likely to get that illness again.Returning the favour, Shiatsu therapists recognize the value of intervention if the organism has gone too far out of balance to adjust itself. They are trained to recognize when Western medicine may be more suitable and advise the client to seek medical help. In this case Shiatsu can be useful as an aid to the recovery process once the necessary intervention has been made.

Source:Why have Shiatsu?

What are Yin and Yang?

Oriental medicine is based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang which is a way of understanding how the universe works and it is also a way of thinking.  It is cyclical, complementary and opposite; there are no absolutes, everything is part of the whole, objects and phenomena are seen in relation to the universe and to each other.

The original meaning of Yang was ‘the sunny side of the valley’; Yin was ‘the shady side of the valley’.  Yin therefore was associated with darkness, coldness, resting, and quietness. Yang was the opposite: light, heat, activity and movement.

Of course, everything changes, and so – the shady becomes sunny, and vice versa.

By the further association of Yang with Heaven, and Yin with the Earth, a whole series of qualities were assigned to each category. Yin and Yang mutually create each other; there can be no concept of hot without an idea of what cold is, there is no down without a concept of up, etc.


chi-al-huang-calligraphy4

Calligraphy by Chungliang Al Huang


What are the Five Elements or Phases?

The Five Elements or Phases represent a further classification of Yin and Yang into different forms of Ki, described by the qualities of Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire. These Elements are descriptions of Ki in different stages and processes of change.  Fire is the ultimate Yang; Metal is more solid, more structured, colder; Water is to do with fluidity and flexibility, it is cold and is the ultimate Yin; Wood is more active, creative. The cycle of the Five Elements shows how each element is constantly being transformed from one into another throughout the natural world. Water creates Wood, Wood creates Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth creates Metal and Metal creates Water. The names of the elements are convenient labels, or images to help us understand their function, but their meaning goes far beyond the label. In humans, for example, Wood energy is responsible for growth, decision-making and creativity, but if it is allowed to get out of balance it can lead to impatience, frustration and anger. Metal represents clarity, precision and incisiveness, but if unchecked it can lead to depression and grief. The five elements are interrelated in a complex way, so that an excess of one type of energy can over-control or deplete another: Earth controls Water, Water controls Fire, Fire controls Metal, Metal controls Wood and Wood controls Earth.

Five Element Diagram

Five Element Correspondences