As I try to start my blog for this week, I find myself stuck. I have so many ideas and concepts firing through the synapses of my brain, that I’m having difficulty focusing in on just one. Each time I think I’ve come up with a good idea, I go back and review my research on it, then look at even more research – in my books, journals, and online. That’s where I seem to hit a wall. I’m wanting to write about herbal energetics and individual constitutions, but as I research, I find myself thinking ‘I need to delve deeper into TCM, Ayurveda, and Western Herbalism before I can write about this.’ Perhaps the difficulty I’m having is because of the differences in the way I look at these ideas now vs the way I’ve looked at them for most of my life. One seemingly simple concept – and a major difference between allopathic and herbal/aromatherapy approaches to optimal health lies in how treatment is viewed.
If you go to your doctor for a broken arm, (s)he will treat the break with a cast and treat the symptoms of pain and swelling with medicine as well as recommend ice. If you have appendicitis, a surgeon will remove the appendix and prescribe medicine for pain and swelling. But what happens if you go to your doctor with chronic aches and fatigue? (S)He may run a series of tests to see what’s going on and may or may not find any answers. Even with a specific diagnosis, (s)he may not have any answers for what’s causing your condition or how to best treat it. In such a case, the doctor is likely to treat the symptoms (under a one-size-fits-all plan) without ever finding an underlying cause – and this is where a major difference exists.
A trained herbalist will look at the constitution of the person, his/her lifestyle, diet, symptoms, stressors, and so on, then determine which herbs will best support that person’s whole body and return it to a balanced state called homeostasis. This is a holistic approach. TCM, Ayurveda, and Western Herbalism are based on the idea that when the body systems are balanced, the body is functioning at it’s best and when the body is out of balance, there will be symptoms and illness. So, the goal of TCM, Ayurveda, and Western Herbalism is to treat the individual whole body/whole person to bring the body back into balance- not to treat only a symptom or two.
This seems straightforward, but if you’re like me – raised to get treated for symptoms – it takes time to wrap your brain around the concept of choosing herbs (and essential and carrier oils) based on the herbs’ energetics and the body’s constitution and imbalances. It’s also very easy to fall into an allopathic mindset of wanting to treat symptoms when they arise rather than determine what the actual imbalance is. For example, let’s say you are prone to catching colds every winter. You could take an over-the-counter medicine that will (hopefully) reduce the congestion and aches – that’s the allopathic way. You could look up what herbs help reduce congestion and aches and make herbal teas (or essential oil blends) to treat the symptoms – that’s also allopathic thinking. Or, you could try to understand what’s happening that is weakening your immune system and causing you to be susceptible to catching so many colds. Then, you could find a combination of herbs and/or essential oils that would support your immune system and fit with your constitution to help you reduce the number of colds you catch – that’s what TCM, Ayurveda, and Western Herbalism do.
Is it really that simple? No, an herbal tea is not a panacea for everything that ails you. There’s a lot more in your life that may need changing. If your diet is lousy, it will need to be improved. If you are constantly living with high stress, you’ll need to find a way to reduce that stress. Finding the balance you need to be healthy will require changes in the ways you think and live.
This blog is a generalization of concepts that are intricate and involved. Future blogs will look at the concepts taught in TCM, Ayurveda, and Western Herbalism in more detail, and eventually explore the similarities and differences between them.