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  • Mary Helen Robert, LAc

Understanding Chinese Medicine

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

Notes: For some time now I have wanted to compose a brief description of how Chinese medicine works etc… This is no easy task I can assure you. In pondering how I would keep it brief I stumbled upon some notes that were transcribed lectures of Sean C. Marshall, DAc the founder of the Jung Tao School of Classical Chinese Medicine. Most of what you see below comes from the aforementioned lectures, and most specifically the book - Li: The Inner Principles of Classical Chinese Medicine, which is a compilation of first year energetics lectures, as thought by Dr. Marshall before his passing.



The entire process, the entire homeostatic mechanism of the human body has an auto-regulatory nature. This complex auto-regulation is what we ultimately restore, what we as acupuncturists re-establish in the system. This rectified auto-regulation, in turn, re-establishes health. As acupuncturists we don’t treat disease. To treat the disease is to ignore the patient. Where Western medicine is the study of pathology, what causes disease, Chinese medicine is the study of what causes health. And so in treating, in diagnosing, in understanding pathological processes, we look to the auto-regulatory mechanisms of the system which are the intrinsic embodiment of thermogenesis and hydrogenesis (the two antithetical seasons, summer and winter). And we seek, through the subtleties of Chinese medicine, not to treat the disease process, but to restore the health process, re-establish autoregulation. That includes the alimentary system (digestive system) and metabolism - the body’s ability to transform matter in to energy, and energy into physical structure, tissues, fluids and substances; the immune system and its ability to defend the body from external influences; and the template, the blueprint of reconstruction, the DNA. These are all intrinsic to the system. They are part of a process that exists already. That is our task, to restore the intrinsic dao/tao (way) of the body. This creates an environment in which dis-ease is no longer supported. Rather than opposing an illness, we support the underlying mechanisms for self-generation and auto-regulation, thereby making an inhospitable environment for illness.


There’s a certain amount of self-destructive, or at least destructive influence inherent in allopathy and a large part of the Western medical approach. When the body is failing to produce insulin and you give it insulin, or drugs that increase sensitivity to insulin, you reinforce the aberrant mechanisms that are failing to generate proper insulin metabolism. You convince the system it doesn’t have to do it for itself. Although this does postpone the destruction and degeneration momentarily, the distortion created by the drug is actually supporting the process that’s encouraging the failure of insulin production. So rather than providing insulin, we look to the systems that are responsible for producing it and responding to it. We determine what’s failed within the mechanism of insulin production, and re-establish the relationships that encourage the body to auto-regulate insulin metabolism, like most endocrine systems naturally do. In that analogy lies the underlying prime directive of Chinese medicine: re-synchronize a harmonious relationship of the internal systems, as well as a harmonic accord to the external environment and the cosmos at large. We don’t really add to or bring into the system anything that is external. We encourage the body to restore itself systemically from the interior.


As we look further into the mechanisms of Chinese medicine and the energetics of the body, we’re going to find there are different kinds of energy in the system that have different kinds of responsibilities and jobs within the system. An example of this is what the Chinese call yuan qi - basically the DNA, the template - and the template includes the instructions for the production of - to use the illustration above - the islets of Langerhans, so the beta cells that are needed in order to produce insulin. And so, if you can incite the kinds of energies that grew the body in the first place and re-establish those, then depending on how far the system has deteriorated, restoration is possible. There is an admonition in Chinese medicine that states, “Not even magic can cure old age or a withered flower.” So there is a certain point of no return, where there’s no going back. The true forte of Chinese medicine in the first place is preventing disease, and anyone who would let their patient deteriorate to the point of irreparable damage is a creepy doctor.


So, all in all, the ultimate strategy which has to be employed is one of restoration and auto-regulation of the system. The body knows how to correct itself. There is a level of visceral intelligence that is not available to the cerebral mind, the patient’s or the doctor’s. By re-establishing the mechanisms of its internal dynamics, of the stimulatory and inhibitory cycles, the body will optimize and restore itself. Every act of an acupuncturist is to facilitate this process.



Mary Helen Robert, LAc

acupuncture & wellness