Treating Disease that is Not Yet Disease
Present illness processes are chronic in nature. These complex illnesses are often difficult to treat, requiring more time to resolve. Treatment involves an understanding of a patient’s health and life from the past in order to perceive correctly the acute presentation of that illness. It is essential, in the treatment of modern chronic illnesses to recognize the past as it is showing up through the present for each specific individual.
One of the main tenets of Chinese classical medicine is to “treat disease that is not yet disease.” This is also a tenet of Naturopathy and other holistic medicines, for it is what we call preventative medicine. While working with the past and present, we must remember that it is the future that is coming! The most important part of medicine is to prevent future illness, and to prevent current illnesses from deepening into more complexity. Each current illness is an opportunity for healing both the past and the future.
Chinese medicine is able to treat disease that is not yet disease due to two core aspects of its foundation. The first is through a holistic perspective of the human being. The ancient Chinese perceived the human being dynamically, living and breathing, changing and transforming between the heavens and the earth. Each individual lives from out of this central realm, and is thus fully comprehended within the context of time (coming from the heavens) and with the spatial directions (being upheld by the earth). Due to this threefold, holistic perspective, we can say that Chinese medicine is temporally based, directionally oriented medicine.
The second is through time itself. To live in time means to join in its flow. We can hardly escape the flow of time, so what is meant here is to be aware of one’s relationship to time. How do you feel in the summer versus the winter? What time of day do your symptoms worsen or improve? These are but the starting place of working with time, for in classical Chinese medicine, we study natural changes and patterns with great attention.
Our relationship to time is a part of our health. When you sleep matters much more than the number of hours, and the same is true for eating, exercising, pushing to finish a project, or taking a break. We feel liberated from time, and in many ways we are (we can do as we please), but only for so long. Sooner or later, our relationship with time catches up with itself.
One of our modalities in Chinese medicine is herbal medicine. Herbs can be taken in a way that enhances and supports your health through time. This is the case both in seasonal time, as well as in one’s own personal health process. Even a cold goes through a specific time sequence, and this is very important, for different treatments should be used at different times in preparation for where the illness is going!
Therefore, we can strengthen and protect ourselves from future illness through taking specific herbs (individualized) at the right times of year, and we can treat illness (by preventing the developments of what has not yet become diseased) by taking specific herbs (individualized) at the right time of day, or at specific times in a day.
This is the gift of classical Chinese medicine, a gift that is best received before or at the first signs of an illness. Even for those who are already suffering with a current illness, we can still optimize (as opposed to suppress) through our treatments of that illness, and more importantly, also prevent the disease from worsening. Whether you have a new illness or old, or none at all, taking Chinese herbs at the right time is an effective way of securing a healthier future.
The Chinese calendar is based upon the movements of the sunlight and moon phases and how they affect the natural environment. According to this calendar, we are approaching the early signs of springtime and the new Chinese year. This new year (the year of the Horse), as determined by an ancient understanding of the cycles of time and global weather patterns, looks as though it will bring an increase in dampness and rain; corresponding digestive issues as well as overall kidney health would be effected by such a change.
This means that we need to protect ourselves from cold and damp conditions, and support kidney health more carefully than usual. From a Chinese medical point of view, the kidneys are our source for vitality and longevity, so during this year, it is especially important to begin life-nourishing and healthy things, and to avoid things that would get in the way of this. The way to do this is through lifestyle and health maintenance involving regular healthy exercise like Taiji, Qigong, Yoga, or other forms of nourishing and supportive exercise (that do not drain the kidneysto build up physical strength, but instead strengthen the kidneys to build up vital health), avoiding damp and cold foods, staying warm and dry with wool or silklayered clothing, especially through the changeable weather of spring, and gettingadequate sleep at the right time. It also is a wonderful thing to utilize classical Chinese medicine for its true power, which is to treat disease that is not yet disease.
Michael Givens, MA, MSOM, LAc
Good Life Medicine Center