Traditional Japanese Medicine
If you’ve heard much about alternative medicine, you may have come to the realization that much of it is based in the traditional medicinal practices of various places around the world, often the Indo-Pacific region.
Traditional Japanese Medicine has given alternative medicine a strong foundation, but it is easy for its unique teachings and beliefs to get lost in the sea of “Eastern Medicine,” the traditional medicinal practices of Japan, China, Korea, and India.
While most of this article will talk specifically about traditional Japanese medicine, touching base on some of the things that you might already know about “Eastern Medicine” may be a good way to get started.
Traditional Japanese Medicine believes that health comes from “balance” between different aspects of our lives, including diet, exercise, emotional and mental health, and some form of spiritual connectedness.
That doesn’t mean that you have to go to church to practice traditional Japanese medicine or that traditional Japanese medicine should be seen as in conflict with your faith. You just need to have some understanding of yourself as a small but important part and contributor to the universal system.
Based on the concept of an “energy” that flows through the body from a number of centers, called “chakras” along energy lines around the body. Various imbalances in a person’s life can cause or be caused by a “damming up” of energy in the chakras which can manifest as physical, mental, or emotional systems. This energy can be redistributed by the individual or, in more severe cases, by a practitioner.
The great gift of traditional Japanese Medicine to the world is Reiki. This healing practice involves a healthy practitioner helping an unhealthy patient to regain health by rebalancing their energies. This is often done by the practitioner placing their hands on the patient in order to help redirect their energies.
It is both reminiscent of “faith healing” practiced by various religions in the Americas and is one of the ancient for-runners of modern Chiropractics.
While no one (at least not in the Americas and Europe) can get medical degrees in Reiki, there are institutions that certify Reiki practitioners. If you go to a Reiki practitioner, you may ask to see their certificate.
They may also have degrees in some other health fields such as chiropractic, physical therapy, & c. That having been said, there is virtually no risk at all involved in Reiki. While there are stories of Reiki helping people, there aren’t a lot of stories about people blaming worsening conditions or the appearance of new conditions on Reiki done wrong.
A quick search on the internet can bring up a wealth of information on Reiki but if you prefer print sources, Diane Stein’s
“Essential Reiki: A Complete Guide To An Ancient Healing Art” is a great start.
The other great pillar of traditional Japanese Medicine is Kampo. While Reiki probably predates Kamp, we know more about Kampo and from older sources.
While Reiki is largely spiritual and fairly mystical in nature, Kampo is more grounded in science. The largely herbal medicinal practice was largely adapted from traditional Chinese medicine and began to gain ground in nearby Japan around the seventh century.
Kampo maintains the focus on the body’s energy but acknowledges that the body’s energy is different from but related to other anatomical concepts. The incorporation of the study of various organs, fluids, and temperatures make Kampo more similar to concepts that weren’t known in Europe until just before the Renaissance, giving Kampo a blend of both more traditional credibility and more scientific maturity than Reiki, though the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive and aren’t exactly substitutes for one another.
Just as Reiki can be seen as an ancestor of chiropractic medicine, Kampo can be seen as an early step towards today’s interest in herbal, holistic, and homeopathic medicine.
Like any school of traditional medicine, traditional Japanese medicine offers a great pool of resources and practices into which the interested person can easily dive in these days of easy information accessibility.
While Reiki is largely seen as harmless, you should probably talk to your medical care provider before diving into Kampo, especially if you are being treated for something already. Some of the herbs involved in Kampo, while perfectly safe for most users, can potentially interact with some prescription medications.
Traditional Korean Medicine 101
Traditional Korean Medicine is not as well-known as some other traditional Indo-pacific medicines like those of China, Japan, or India. This is unfortunate, as just as all of these traditions share many elements and bring their own unique perspectives, traditional Korean medicine is culturally significant as one of many ancient Indo-pacific medical traditions but also has its own important and unique contributions.
No matter whether you’ve heard of it or not or how you feel about it, take out your notebook for Traditional Korean Medicine 101.
Traditional Korean Medicine and Energy
Most Indo-pacific medical traditions focus on the idea that health is improved or damaged based on the balance of energy, life force or soul. This force, usually called “qi,” — pronounced “chee” — flows through channels around the body and usually collects in various locations or organs, often called chakras. The methods of redirecting or balancing energy are one of the main differences between Indo-pacific medical traditions.
In both Japan and Tibet, energy healing became a common practice. In traditional Korean medicine, as in other Indo-pacific medical traditions, one way to promote the healthful flow of energies is through physical movement. In India and Tibet, this led to the development of yogic practices, though in traditional Korean medicine a similar sentiment is often supported by martial arts – a sort of physical practice of philosophy in Korea.
The concept of energy balance is key in one of the two major schools of traditional Korean medicine.
Hanyak is the practice of balancing or complementing the body’s energy. In most of the Indo-pacific medicinal practices, the body’s energy is an almost entirely internal phenomenon. In the energy healing of Japan and Tibet, a healthy person’s energy can interact with another person’s to redirect energies and in acupuncture practices common throughout most Indo-pacific medical traditions, pins along the body’s energy channels can help to redirect energy. In most other practices, the energy must be restored or balanced by the individual through practices like meditation.
Hanyak is fairly unique in that it attempts to balance the body’s energy in part through herbal teas. Many of the traditional ingredients, such as Ginseng, are popular and widely available around the world.
The other big school of traditional Korean medicine is Boyak. This school involves the use of food to balance between “deficiency” and “exuberance,” conditions similar to the conventional medical conditions of low and high metabolism. In Boyak this is largely done through addressing digestion.
The “prescriptions” in Boyak are more similar to recipes given by a specialist based on the symptoms or concerns of the patient. Benefits of Boyak recipes are probably the result of prebiotics and probiotics, which help good bacteria in your stomach and intestines to digest food.
Beginning with Traditional Korean Medicine
Unfortunately, there’s little to find online and finding a practitioner near you is rare. On that note, there are no certification boards for Boyak and Hanyak practitioners so if you find one, they should have some kind of certification from a board that you do trust.
If you do get into Boyak and Hanyak practices, talk to your primary care provider about your Hanyak practices. While Hanyak is usually safe, herbal teas and supplements can sometimes interact with medications, so while you aren’t likely to run into trouble, it’s a good idea to be careful. Boyak, however, is perfectly safe One aspect of traditional Korean medicine that you probably do have access to is martial arts. Soo Bahk Do and Taekwando are both Korean martial arts that have some popularity in America.
They are great for practitioners of any age and incorporate exercises in strength, balance, flexibility, and aerobics as well as introducing practitioners to concepts of energy balance and health.
Traditional Tibetan Medicine 101
You might have heard rumors or stories about the famous Tibetan monks without knowing many concrete facts about this region, its beliefs, and its traditions – especially traditional medicine.
This mountainous region of West-Central China shares some of the traits of traditional Indian medicine to the South West and traditional Pacific medicine to the East. However, the heavy influence of Buddhism in the region has left a unique stamp on traditional medicine in this part of the world.
The Basics of Traditional Tibetan Medicine
Most of the medical traditions of the Indo-pacific region revolve around “qi” — pronounced “chee” — a soul or energy force that flows through the body. Unhealthy concentrations of this energy in different parts of the body lead to mental and physical illness.
Tibetan medicine does believe in bodily energy related to health but the way that they approach it is both more scientific and more abstract.
Instead of focusing on the soul and energy, traditional Tibetan medicine focuses on the mind, believing that all things are caused by the mind. The mind and the soul manifest themselves physically as “humors,” similar to the humors of early-modern European medicine. Imbalances of these humors, then, causes illness.
There are three humors in traditional Tibetan medicine: wind, bile, and phlegm. As a result, a symbol for Tibetan medicine is a circle composed of three drop shapes or brush strokes, compared to the two in the better known “yin-yang” sign popular in other Indo-pacific regions.
The three humors, the mind, and the spirit are sometimes linked to the five elements of traditional Tibetan medicine. The familiar four are earth, water, wind, and fire, with “space” being the more mystical fifth element.
Diagnosis in Traditional Tibetan Medicine
Diagnosis in traditional Tibetan medicine is similar to diagnosis in holistic medicine, which is increasingly common in North America. During the diagnosis process, the pulse may be checked, the breath may be listened to, and urine may be examined. Other parts of the body may also be visually examined, particularly the tongue.
After the disorder of the humors has been diagnosed, a number of interventions may be “prescribed.”
There is also some belief in traditional Tibetan medicine, that different imbalances are more likely at different times of the year because the earth and the body undergo the same seasonal cycles.
Traditional Tibetan Cures and Practices
Trul Khor, a practice similar to yoga, is often used to remedy “wind blockages,” though some practitioners say that it can be used to diagnose, prevent, and treat a number of mental, emotional, and physical disorders.
Tsa-rLung is a more passive healing process, wherein a practitioner will attempt to heal the afflicted by redirecting energies in a process similar to faith healing in the Americas or Reiki in Japan.
Traditional Tibetan medicine also has a component of herbal medicine. Unfortunately for interested persons the world over, Tibetan herbal medicine is based on the herbs that grow in the region. These herbs are either impossible to find or illegal to gather in much of the rest of the world.
A number of ceremonies for the benefit of the individual’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health also make up a significant portion of traditional Tibetan medicine.
Is it Safe?
While Tibetan medicine is interesting to study, there are few centers for it around the world. Further, unlike other alternative medicines or folk medicines, there are no certification boards for Tibetan medicine. If you come across a Tibetan medicine practitioner, be sure to look into their other credentials – particularly medical degrees and experience.
While yoga is widely seen as at best beneficial and at worst harmless, there should be no harm in incorporating this aspect of traditional Tibetan medicine into your life. Similarly, while energy healing is not usually taken seriously in most of the Americas and Europe, it is also not seen as dangerous.
Should you venture into the world of herbal medicine, however, be sure to let your primary care provider know what herbs or supplements you are taking as these can interact with medication.