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The medicine of China, Japan and other countries of the Far East is among the oldest in the world. This medicine can teach us a great deal that can be practically applied today. The basic philosophy of Oriental medicine is the complementary opposite of the kind of medicine currently practised in the West. Western medicine, with its emphasis on the treatment of symptoms by drugs and surgery, is increasingly powerless to cope with the rising tide of degenerative illness that now threatens to engulf the industrialised world. Clearly we need to supplement our mainly symptomatic medicine with a medicine that is preventive in direction and humane and economical in application. Oriental medicine can contribute greatly to filling this need.
The standard Oriental writings on the causes of disease stressed the relationship between an individual’s health and his or her diet, activity, spiritual attitude and total environment. No single aspect of human life was considered separate from another. The biological, psychological and spiritual were seen as related aspects of the totality. The practitioner was an adviser and teacher who could point out the source of a health problem and give practical suggestions for changes in life style that could ameliorate the problem at its source.
In Western medicine, diagnosis identifies a disease by observation of its symptoms. The experienced Oriental diagnostician, however, can foresee the development of sickness before the sick person has specific symptoms such as pain. The principal tool of Oriental diagnosis is physiognomy — the art of judging a person “from the features of the face or the form and lineaments of the body generally” (Oxford English Dictionary). The basic premise of Oriental physiognomy is that each individual represents a walking history of his or her development. The strengths and weaknesses of our parents, the environment we were brought up in, and the food we have eaten are all expressed in our present condition. Our posture, the colour of our skin, the tone of our voice and other traits are externalisations of the condition of our blood, organs, nervous system, and skeletal structure, which in turn are the result of our heredity, diet, environment, and activity.
The secret of diagnostic skill is to recognise the signs of a particular set of changes before they become serious — to see the signs that stones are developing in the kidneys, that the heart is becoming expanded, or that a cancer is developing — even before these symptoms bring pain and discomfort. This type of diagnosis depends completely on the practitioner developing his or her own sensitivity and understanding fully the principles that underlie the techniques.